RAI not?

4 11 2008

Please don’t make me watch Affari tuoi anymore



One of the most irritating things about living in Italy is having to pay for the so-called abbonamento RAI, the obbligatory and expensive television licence. It’s not just that the programmes are bad (and they are) but there’s so little value for money. There are very few original programmes for children, the rare examples of cultural programming are put on after midnight in August, and the three networks are dominated by inane shows with dancing girls and screaming C-list celebrities.

Another example of RAI entertainment I can do without is Affari tuoi, the Italian equivalent of Deal or No Deal. Like such classics as Grande fratello, Isola dei famosi, and La talpa, it’s a format our creatively challenged pals from RAI have bought from abroad and then left to fester and putrefy on air over a number of years.

For those of you who are lucky enough not to have seen it, Affari tuoi is a quiz show without the quiz. They open the boxes and people win money, without having to demonstrate any personal ability or knowledge. The sole challenge the contestants face is whether to keep the package up until the end of the programme, when they win the value of the contents, or exchange it for a cash offer along the way.

To keep it interesting, since it’s not their money, the producers continue to raise the levels of the prizes. But even winning €500,000 has got boring, since it’s on 7 nights a week. So they try and garnish the stale entertainment with ever more absurd antics from the hosts and contestants.

The only time Affari tuoi is entertaining is when the contestants take the first decent offer to give up their package. Instead of handing over the prize and calling in a new contestant, the hosts recriminate with the person who has taken the early offer for an half hour or so. From what I’ve gathered, however, the best strategy is to accept the offer, even though (or because) it destroys what little entertainment value the show had.


A typical Sunday afternoon on RAI UNO

27 10 2008

Or, what I saw as I ran to turn off the tv

The television programme Domenica In has been shown Sunday afternoons on RAI Uno for many years, notwithstanding my best efforts to avoid it. From what I have seen, when forced to watch in other people’s homes, its main audience is middle aged men sleeping on the sofa after a long lunch. The non-start entertainment lasts from 2 in the afternoon until 6:30 in the evening, just as the effects of the lasagna and red wine are starting to wear off.

Thanks to our pals at You Tube, who watch all of the show so we don’t have to, here are all of the things I missed this Sunday (and the two minutes I saw by mistake).

At 2 pm:

Opening dance routine (I’m not watching because I’ve got better things to do):

At 3 pm:

Italian superstar Ron sings his greatest misses (but I’m still working on my book):

Ow! My ears hurt!

At 4:30 pm

Italian singer Alexia meets Luisa Corna (but I’m still RAI tv free):

“Truly sweet”

At 6:15 pm

I turn on the tv for the soccer results and discover this week’s theme is what Beethoven would sound like if he and Freddie Mercury collaborated on Italian television dance routines:

It makes you proud to be European

At 6: 16 pm

I turn off the sound so I can concentrate on the teletext.

Cycling with Ferrari

17 10 2008

In which a plethora of supercars make my regular cycling route more interesting

After my recent encounter with a group of Ferrari Californias during my usual bike ride, I discovered that Ferrari is holding the official test drives and press previews of the new model in my town. Automotive journalists are coming from all over the world to try out the new model and they are trying them out along the stretch of road where I usually go out riding my Wilier.

Ferrari California - more exciting than the Fiat 126s I usually see
Ferrari California – slightly more glamorous than the Fiat 126s I usually see


Since the excitement of seeing the Ferraris last time was followed by a bad (Mercedes) driver’s attempt to run me down in front of my house, I increased my visibility this week by wearing my bright yellow ‘bad boys of cycling’ kits – first a Riccardo Ricco style Saunier Duval outfit and after my retro Marco Pantani-Mercatone Uno kit.

I usually go out (when I can) around 5pm after a long day at work or sitting in front of the computer working on the final revisions for my book. On Wednesday in particular, a number of Ferraris were going up and down the road the entire time I was out. I saw red ones, blue ones, grey ones, with the tops up and down, with and without camera crews, going fast or slow. Wow! My favourite moment was watching a group of excited local Fiat drivers pass one particularly slow moving Ferrari. The locals were punching their fists in the air as they managed to pass the supercar (at approx. 30kmh). For you car buffs, I can only say that the new model looks nice and makes a very loud roar as it passes…

Meeting the stars

As I was coming up to the top of the steepest hill on my route, winding my way around the switchback curves after 35km of fun, I came across a parked car and camera crew. Curious and always keen to talk to the stars (I met Angelo ‘King Kong’ Mosca twenty years ago), I felt I recognized the ‘motoring journalist’ from somewhere:

Me: Are you the guy from the car show on British tv?

Star: Yes.

Me: Cool.

As I was speeding down the other side, by racing bike standards, the Ferrari zoomed past and the driver waved at me. After I got home, thanks to Google, I connected the face with Tom Ford from the tv programme Fifth Gear.

All in all, an interesting afternoon on the bike.

Cycling in Italy

9 10 2008

Cycling in Italy is fun when you see the new Ferrari and the driver gives you a thumbs up

Cycling in Italy is no fun when drivers of crappy little Mercedes cars don’t see you

A Wilier like mine

A) a Wilier Triestina like mine

B) My Canada team kit

B) My Canada Olympic Team kit

I think I am noticeable with my flashy bike and cycling kit.
I tend to attract a lot of attention when I ride around town and in the country. The area where I live is one of the cycling meccas of southern Italy and there are many cycling tourists from around the world, especially in the spring, who want to chat about the local routes when we meet along the roads. Drivers will often wave from their cars as well. I have even had my picture taken by some hikers as I whizzed by.
like my Wilier, world championship Italian performance

Ferrari California: like my Wilier, world champion Italian performance

On Tuesday afternoon, I happened to come upon the road tests for the new Ferrari California. As I was pedaling home, I saw one red Ferrari after another – and not your garden variety Magnum PI models.The first driver recognized the spiritual kinship between our two examples of world-beating Italian performance engineering, slowing down on the curve to give me a thumbs up as I passed. The second driver went by at mach speed…
After all that excitement and 50 windy kms of exercise, I arrived back in town and discovered that I had become invisible. A couple of cars cut me off on the main road – one genius drove across from the other lane and parked in front of me at a 90 degree angle. Tired and irritated, I was glad to get on my quiet little street and relax for the final few metres back home…
Alas, as I coasted up to my front door, some clown in a Mercedes A-class roared down the street at full blast. There no place to hide – typical of a narrow Italian side street, there were parked cars everywhere. The car slowed down – to 30 kmh – but I was getting squeezed between the pretentious minicar and a parked Lancia. The only place to go was up.
Some gymnast like balance, honed over years of cycling, along with some choice Italian obscenities saved my skin (and attracted a crowd on the neighbouring balconies) but it was a close call. As they say, most accidents happen close to home.

Wilier Triestina dominates Cycling World Championships

29 09 2008

New World Champion Alessandro Ballan and Silver Medallist Damiano Cunego ride Wilier bikes to Glory

Foreign Food at Lidl

26 09 2008

When you get tired of the very best Italian cuisine

Lidl -hooray!

Lidl -hooray!

Italians are convinced they have the best food in the world and, of course, they’re right. It is not always a pleasure to be told that your native cuisine is rubbish, however. On the rare occasions when I’m able to find exotic delicacies like cranberry juice, oatmeal, or baked beans, there’s always some friendly soul who comes up to me in the supermarket and wants to know what I’ve got in my cart and why I’m buying it. Often it’s the cashiers, eager to know what that mysterious product really is, or, even worse, some supercilious jerk who wants to give me extempore nutritional advice. (Sure peanut butter is fattening but I’m still a lot thinner than you amico.) You would think Italians of all people would understand the powerful emotional resonance of food.

The emergence here of ruthlessly efficient German supermarket chain Lidl has made my food based homesickness easier to bear.  This week, apart from the regular supply of baked beans, there is a special offer on Specialità britanniche, complete with all your British favourites like oatmeal, marmalade, fish & chips, corned beef, English mustard, and above all shortbread. The British food specials were preceded in July by an American Food week, featuring packages of pecans and hamburger relish.

When I got to Lidl, the pickle sauce had already disappeared but there was still enough shortbread and oatmeal there to fill my needs. Predictably, after a few seconds, a group formed around the display and asked my wife “ma perchè si compra questa roba?”

My only question is how long will it be before Lidl gets around to the fine foods of Canada: maple syrup, butter tarts, muffins, donuts, rutabaga, parsnips, oatmeal cookies, pea soup, poutine, and Kraft Dinner.

Addio Alitalia?

18 09 2008

Bankruptcy seems imminent after failure of negotiations with unions

Theres always Ryanair...

There's always Ryanair...

Things are starting to look bad for Alitalia: the CAI consortium abandoned its rescue plan (of the most profitable parts of the current Alitalia) after its bluff was called by six of the nine unions negotiating the transfer to a new corporate structure. The CAI members had threatened to pull the plug on the complex take over plan if there was not an agreement by the numerous unions for significant job losses, and changes in wages and work practices. At any rate, as they have been doing since the weekend, the current emergency management continues to claim that the company’s fuel is about to run out.
Better bankrupt than in the hands of bandits

"Better bankrupt than in the hands of bandits"

The Italian media is reporting that Alitalia employees reacted with glee to the failure of the plan – seemingly convinced that domestic political considerations would oblige the Berlusconi government to undertake a bailout under more lucrative conditions. It is worth noting that, during the previous electoral campaign, the unions rejected what seems to have been a much better takeover offer from Air France. The brinksmanship between the government and the unions seems not unlike a famous scene in the Clint Eastwood bad cop drama Dirty Harry: “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Are there two rescue plans or three?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as the gas is about to run out, and would blow your company ( or ‘your future electoral majority’, depending whether you see the unions or the government as having the upper hand) right out of business, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”