Maniac Bus Driver

22 05 2008

On the last bus home no one can hear you scream

Night Bus - the film

“Why don’t buses have seatbelts?” the former American comedian Arsenio Hall asked rhetorically. His answer was simple: “if you’re riding a bus, your life isn’t worth anything”.

I hate taking the bus – it’s crowded, bumpy, and here the locals have a visceral hatred for any form of ventilation. The minute the feeble air conditioning goes on, people start running up to the driver to demand that it be turned off. Now that summer is coming it’s like riding in an old running shoe.

The standard demoralizing experience gets worse when I end up taking the last bus home. You have to be at one of the main stops because, in a frantic rush to finish their shift, the drivers have a predilection for ignoring those pesky passengers wherever possible along the less brightly lit points of the route. You have to pick your seat carefully: too close to the front and you’re listening to the bus driver’s selection of 70’s Italian pop favourites for the next 2 hours – too far to the back and you feel the wheels bouncing up and down as the driver tries to reach warp speed.

Tonight, after an endless day at work, I had the bus trip from hell. Things started off predictably: the bus lurched forwards, accelerated out of the piazza, and began to sway back and forth as we took the curves at excess speed. Bags flew out of the racks above, purses rolled down the aisle, tired commuters ended up sprawled in contorted shapes – everything seemed normal. But our driver was in a real hurry this time.

After the first stop in a small town halfway along the route we were almost an hour ahead of schedule and the driver decided to press his luck. The bus plowed through the medieval streets of the town, sparks flying as it grazed parked cars on its way back to the highway.

Then we heard a bump. And how that bump made us jump! After passing along on the sidewalk – in the driver’s pursuit of the racing line for a particularly sharp curve – the rear end of the bus smashed into a balcony of a house. We all ran to the back window and saw a big chunk of bus roof lying in the centre of the road, surrounded by fragments of masonry and iron railing.

After checking the situation the driver set off, slightly chastened, at a more moderate speed and began to follow the route back to the highway. Then things got stranger.

When we were almost at the on ramp, he swung the bus around and began to retrace his route at high speed. Nobody said anything – people just looked at each other and moved their hands in signs of despair – until we came to the fateful curve for the second time. At this point, one of the passengers demanded an early release.

The rest of our ride home went smoothly but I have had it with public transport. Let Al Gore and Sting give up their private jets and take my seat on the bus, I’m driving the car to work tomorrow.





Giro d’Italia in Palermo

11 05 2008

Team Barloworld in Action

Cofidis on their way to 18th place

On Saturday life in Palermo ground to a halt for the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia, as the main cross city arterial roads were closed to allow the team time trial to take place. It was a rare sight to see the city streets free from traffic and, as an avid cyclist, it was a pleasure for me to attend a top level competition in Sicily.





More Shakespeare Authorship Silliness

5 05 2008

Ex-director of Globe Theatre doesn’t believe in Bill

Mark Rylance signing the so-called Declaration of Reasonable Doubt.

A side effect of the ingrained cultural tradition of praising the unique greatness of Shakespeare is the question of the “real” authorship of the plays attributed to the bard. The idea is that, if the literary and intellectual qualities of the plays are so far beyond that of any dramatist before or since, someone much more sophisticated than a mere actor from the provinces must have written them. The element of snobbery in this debate has always been blatantly obvious. Hence, even before the proliferation of misinformation brought by the internet, there have always been efforts to promote the authorial claims of various court figures and aristocrats like Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, Lady Mary Sidney, James I, Michelangelo Crollalanza, and – why not – Lord Peter Wimsey or Yvette Mimieux.

The authorship question is in the news at the moment because Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of the Globe Amusement Park and Ye Olde Gift Shoppe in London, has recently made apparent his own scepticism about the Shakespeare myth. In a recent feature in The New Yorker, to promote his appearance on Broadway in the classic tragicomedy Boeing-Boeing, we discover that “He thinks now that Shakespeare was likely a front for a small band of writers, perhaps headed by Francis Bacon, which included, among others, Lady Mary Sidney.” Indeed, he claims that his challenge to received ideas, along with his opposition to the Iraq war (a political stance unique in theatrical and academic circles), made his position at the ersatz theatre untenable and obliged him to resign.

What’s so special about Bill anyway?

Of course, if Shakespeare was seen as just another dramatist, we wouldn’t feel obliged to come up with elaborate explanations for his presumed greatness. In working on the representation of Italy in early modern drama, I have come across the authorship question a lot because many people seem to think that Shakespeare’s plays display a distinctive knowledge of the literature, history, and geography of the peninsula – a knowledge that only a widely travelled aristocrat or renowned period intellectual could have attained. Even among professional scholars who would feel embarrassed spouting crackpot historical conspiracy theories, we get grandiose claims about how Shakespeare must have visited Italy and spent an extensive amount of time in Venice in particular. However, it is worth remembering that we are talking the dramatist behind The Tempest, a play which depicts the landlocked city of Milan as a seaport (I have seen Italian productions of the play that silently changed the locale to Genoa to avoid inappropriate laughter in the stalls). What comes to the fore in looking at Shakespeare in the context of early modern drama as a whole, as I will do in my forthcoming book Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage, is that everyone in the theatre was writing about Italy – and, for the most part, they were doing it by cribbing from books readily available in England.





Italian Tax Returns Online (briefly)

1 05 2008

State Privacy Official Ruins the Fun for Gossips and the Curious

Don’t put down anything

you wouldn’t want your neighbours to see

In a move that the outgoing Italian vice-finance minister Vincenzo Visco described as “an act of transparency, of democracy, similar to what happens elsewhere in the world,” the country’s tax office placed the names, addresses, birthdates, and above all incomes of everyone who filed a tax return in 2005. With obvious concerns about privacy and identity theft, underlined by the rapidity with which millions of curiosi caused the website to crash, the national Garante per la Privacy Francesco Pizzetti intervened to block the circulation of such confidential information. Indeed, despite Visco’s declarations, it soon became clear that there was no precedent for making tax records public in other Western countries like the US and Britain. Representatives of the incoming center-right government declared that it was a vendetta against the nation inspired by the loss of Visco’s party in the recent elections.

Before the plug was pulled, the financial records of many Italian public figures were recorded for posterity and are being openly cited by the international press. The domestic press has hastened to take their league tables of VIP earnings offline but the details of the biggest names are still available on numerous blogs and gossip sites. For the nation’s wealthy, as represented by blogosphere icon Beppe Grillo, the release of such information threatens to expose them to the attention of kidnappers and organized crime. Nonetheless, as tax police Colonel Umberto Rapetto put it, the criminal classes “probably know very well that Italian tax returns do not reveal the real wealth of taxpayers, given the high percentage of evasion.”

“Now I know why Enzo still drives that 15 year old Fiat Duna”

Despite all the remaining details about vips, gossips with more local concerns have been left frustrated by all the problems accessing the site before it went down forever. It is all very well finding out about tv stars, footballers, and fashion designers, but what people really want to know (as many conversations I overheard at a bar this afternoon made clear) is what their neighbours, colleagues, and relatives earned (or at least declared) in 2005. Thanks to the outlaws of peer to peer file sharing, the people who brought you mp3 music files and pre-release Hollywood blockbusters, the Italian press is reporting that downloaded copies of local and regional tax records have already started to circulate online.

Just don’t look at mine.