Monday, December 19, 2011

Priorities, Italian-style

Dear Readers,

As many of you are aware, the whole country is going to hell: we've been royally buggered by Berlusconi and we're teetering on the brink of an economic abyss; a raft of unpopular austerity measures were passed which seem designed to decimate us plebeians while the Vultures of Rome continue to gorge on our carcasses; in protest, the union bloodsuckers have launched a blitzkrieg of strikes which further cripples the peons and, of course, does nothing to ruffle the feathers of the old buzzards in charge--who, naturally, remain untouched by any discomforts caused thereby. Our parliamentarians are dancing on our (early) graves with their bloated and sacrosanct salaries (which they resolutely refuse to reduce in these belt-tightening times), expense accounts, retirement packages, etc. that rank them as the highest paid parliamentarians in Europe (but who, interestingly enough, log in the least hours of actual labor). And consider this: if these onerous onorevoli don't show up for work at all--that is, for meetings and votes and such--they're only penalized up to a paltry 30% of their government salary, meaning they still take home at least 70% of their €144,084.36 ($187, 669.36), or €100,859.06 ($131,368.56). I'd like to know of anyone else on planet Earth who gets paid a shitload for not turning up for work, while the toiling masses are being asked to suck it up for the greater good.

But meanwhile, despite all this, my inbox has been filled with emails from PTA moms regarding the never-ending merenda debate (should kids be allowed to bring mid-morning snacks? But it ruins their appetite for lunch!), and the commissione mensa. I'm talkin' long, l-o-n-g emails, emails with articles and codicils, emails drafted in the arcane language of the Constitution (aside: nearly all school district-related emails are inexplicably like this). What, exactly, is the commissione mensa, you ask? It's a volunteer squad of parents who show up at school every day to report on the quality of food served in the cafeteria. Taste-testers, in a word.

I was sent a form emblazoned with the official seal of the school district (I didn't even know our school district had an official seal) which I was to fill out and sign--with an appropriate flourish--should I wish to become a Taste-Tester. I was also sent a three-page Code of the Taste-Testers document which outlined the grave responsibilities and solemn duties of those who choose to heed the call and become one of the few, the proud, etc. And then, finally, I was sent a four-page form which the Taste-Testers must fill out upon every inspection. Ahem--four pages.

On this form, a Taste-Tester must rate the following:

--Punctuality of arrival, as the food is cooked off-site and brought in. (Because Italians, of course, care so very much about punctuality)

--Organizational aspects. (And they care equally much about being organized at all times in all things)

--Whether or not the day's menu was pleasing, and whether or not the quantity was sufficient (I'm reminded of the Woody Allen line: "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." "Yeah, I know, and such small portions")

--Does the menu served match the written menu which was sent home to parents? If not, how did it vary? (Altering the Gospel According to Paul might carry fewer repercussions)

--The flavor and quality of each course/item (that is, primo of pasta, secondo of protein, bread, side of veg and fruit) and whether or not it was rejected/wasted by the students. (Budding food critics, all)

--The cleanliness and orderliness of the table-settings, the service staff and their uniforms, and the kitchen area. (Italians are obsessed with cleanliness, except when they're being pigs)

--The staff's behavior toward the children. (They'd better be treated like the half-pint deities they are, or it's off with your head)

An ample area is provided on the form for the comments and suggestions of the Taste-Tester (one assumes an essay and critique along the lines of Ruth Reichl tackling Tavern on the Green is called for. If only political analysis in this country was as probing and cogent).

Greenjeans the Hungry Wino:
the school cafeteria rabbit and mascot

I confess to finding all this utterly hilarious. In a country suffering the economic equivalent of the Black Death (and where tax evasion and corruption are as rife as the disease-spreading, bubo-inducing flea), where the quality of political representation resembles something out of Titus Andronicus--people are deeply, profoundly concerned as to whether or not their child's penne al pesto is palatable.

But maybe these Italians have it nailed--maybe other things are more important and more relevant to the realities of everyday life. Maybe I should just quit harping, look on the bright side, eat my fill of the glorious Tuscan bounty which surrounds me, and go bury my head in the sand, too.

Sounds like a plan.




  1. Katrina7:35 PM

    Burying of the head in the sand is becoming very popular stateside too, unfortunately. All in the guise of being tolerant. Chicken shits I say...all of them!

  2. Kristen8:56 PM

    Yes, California! We are coming perilously close to that abyss too. The state worker salaries and pensions are bankrupting us and if we had taste-testers (of course they'd be unionized) that would surely finish us off. Yep, the toiling masses on this side of the globe are getting the cazzo kicked out of them too. Enjoy your Tuscan bounty and be careful not to swallow that sand. In bocca al lupo to Italy and California.

  3. Dear Katrina and Kristen--I know things in the States aren't easy right now, either. But somehow I feel that Americans, when pushed to the limit, will eventually respond with right action. Italians just keep doing the tarantella....

  4. I think there are problems in both U.S. and Italy, just of different kinds. While I have little experience yet with Italian bureaucracy, I have extensive experience with our U.S. healthcare insurance companies and our own government bureaucracies. I do think overall U.S. is more efficient, which isn't saying much. My theory is that Italians don't address their many issues due to pessimisism (nothing can change so don't bother..) while Americans are the opposite and blindly optimistic. In spite of media coverage of Occupy protestors etc, the average American clings to the myth of the American dream (pull yourself up by your bootstrap mentality), and thus they have a strange identification with the rich 1% in case they reach that someday. This identification causes a sort of inertia where people seem to do nothing about the power of huge corporations/lobbyists etc..

  5. Very interesting comment, oilandgarlic! I heartily agree that lobbyists and special interest groups in the U.S. are scarily powerful. Here in Italy, one of the main problems (at times it can be seen as a strength of course) is that Italians tend to view things from a very narrow perspective: family and immediate friends and neighbors count, while for everyone else it's every man, woman and child for themselves. They do not have what you might call a global (or even community) perspective. This goes back to feudal times and nation-states--regions of Italy are still, practically speaking, nations unto themselves--and getting them united behind ANY cause is difficult. Therefore, apathy reigns.


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