Italy’s 2016 Referendum – what does it mean and what you need to know

Yesterday I voted for the first time in an Italian election as an Italian citizen.  I’d been researching the issue, and asking everyone I know for their opinions, for months, and the truth is, I can’t think of a worse issue to have as my first time.  Were this first time sex, it would be the equivalent of doing it in the backseat of a car with someone you don’t even really like – memorable, but disappointing.

However, I was quoted by a journalist friend about how I voted, and why, for The Guardian newspaper (which definitely didn’t happen after my first sexual encounter).

For those who haven’t yet recovered from the US elections and didn’t even begin to sort through what this was all about, I’ll give a very brief, Cliff-Notes version – basically just what you need to know so that you can have an opinion about it at a dinner party, and know what it might mean for the future of Italy, the future of the EU, and how that might effect anyone who wants to come here on vacation.

WHAT WAS THE REFERENDUM ABOUT?

The question asked to Italian citizens on the ballot was essentially (and forgive my terrible, literal translation):

Do you approve the constitutional law concerning the provision for exceeding the equal bicameralism, a reduction of the number of members of parliament, containment of costs of institutions, the suppression of the CNEL and the revision of Title V of the Second part of the Constitution?  Yes / No

In my own words, it was about reducing the size of the senate and changing their power so that laws would be quicker to pass and governments couldn’t be ousted as easily.  In addition, the Provinces would be abolished as well as an organization called CNEL, all of which would have saved taxpayers X amount of money.

Sounds good, right?  Smaller, cheaper, and more stable government is hard to turn down!

The first bit of messiness was that Renzi, the Prime Minister, originally said that if he couldn’t get these reforms to pass, he would step down as PM.  For many, that made a “No” vote the equivalent of “Out with Renzi”.  He then took back that statement, and in the back and forth, the issue became for many people, the equivalent of  a “Yes” vote meaning “Renzi stays”.

After Trump’s victory, the foreign press called this a potential ‘Third Act’ in the Brexit/Trump/Italexit saga.  Many also feared that Italy, looming on the brink of a serious banking crisis, would be in such a state of uncertainty were Renzi to step down, that the EU would be in turmoil if we delivered a “No” vote.  The foreign press also speculated further about how the only party that would come to power post-Renzi was the 5-Star movement, which has been on the record as being anti-EU (even though they’re also on the record for being pro-EU).

HERE’S SOME OTHER THINGS THAT THE ISSUE BECAME ABOUT:

- If Renzi steps down, that will leave a space that could only be filled by the 5-Star (antiestablishment) movement which could then lead to referendum on leaving the EU alla Brexit – which could be bad.  Or good!

- If Renzi steps down, that could force the President of the Republic to create a technocratic government to tide us over until the next elections in 2018 – which could be bad.  Or good.

- The far right sees a “No” vote as the same kind of “No” that the UK delivered and the same kind of “No” that the US voted (against Clinton and the establishment), which would then pave the way for more Salvini/Putin/Le Pen/Trump right wing extremists.  Which would certainly be bad.  Unless you’re into that, in which case it would be good.

So a vote on constitutional reform, involving the size and cost of the Senate, turned into a vote either for or against the PM, a vote for or against the EU, a vote for or against Populism and the Establishment (which, in this case, we don’t really know if it’s Renzi and his proposal or saying no to Renzi and his proposal).

WHAT WAS IT REALLY ABOUT?

Those who broke down the actual text of what was proposed (myself included) found the following issues of concern:

- The remaining senators would not be elected directly by the people. They would be appointed by other politicians.

- The remaining senators would also hold a second public office, so would have to divide their time between the two jobs, and incur higher costs in getting to/from Rome to complete their duties as senators therefore reducing the potential savings.

- The senators would have legal immunity, which could lead to all kinds of corruption (and just, why?).

- No salaries would be cut, therefore making the issue of saving money no longer at the center of the argument.

- The process by which a law becomes a law, instead of following the current, slow, yet single procedure, would follow 10-13 different procedures (the actual number not 100% agreed on) that, if disputed, would end up in the constitutional courts to be disputed to death, which means that there’s no guarantee that laws will be any easier to pass then they are now.

- That governments would be more stable, but also more powerful, and that could be good (if the government is good) or it could be REALLY bad (if the government is bad).

- For some reason they also threw in there that the number of signatures needed to bring a public vote forward would be much higher than it currently is, which just had no place getting squeezed into this.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Well, we know what happened.  Italy voted “No” about 60 to 40, and Renzi immediately stated he would turn in his resignation the following day.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Good question.  It’s doubtful we’ll hold early elections, so the President will have to form a government that will last from now until 2018.  In the meantime, that means nothing’s changed at all. The laws, and the process by which they become laws, has stayed the same.  Today, and tomorrow, Italy will have the same problems that it had yesterday and the day before.

For the tourist, this might mean that the Euro will fall against the dollar a bit, which could make your trip cheaper.  Otherwise, you can plan that Italy is going to be the same dichotomous, beautifully messy, chaotic and confusing place that it was and might always be.

But if you really want to understand Italy, just watch this oldie but goodie:

Virtual Reality Tour of Rome by LivItaly Tours

I was recently invited to go on a special tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill with LivItaly Tours – special because they’ve added VR glasses/goggles so you can see computer generated recreations of the sites while in them.

We – my 10-year old daughter and I – met with a group of other bloggers at the nearby Caffé Propaganda in the Celio neighbourhood, just next to the Colosseum, where we had a drink and demo of our glasses.

They work with your smartphone through an app you download in advance.  Once at a site, you select it in the app, and it recognises your motion, so as you turn the view changes.

We started off at the Colosseum, talking about how it got its name and the colossal statue of Nero that was once next to it – and that thanks to the VR glasses, we could see again.

Being on a group tour means jumping the substantial line, which even in November was pretty long.

Now, I’ve been in the Colosseum many times, and have had a number of guided tours there too, but for my daughter, despite being born in Italy and living here, this was her first time.  She’s currently studying the Greeks in school, so this was an interesting way for her to connect the dots to the ancient world.  She was full of questions, and our guide, Rachel, was full of answers.  The glasses were appealing to my daughter not only because of the cool/fun factor, but because many of the monuments and ruins from the ancient world require a lot of imagination to see what they were really like, and visualising them with the glasses makes it come to life much easier.

Next we headed up the Palatine Hill, where the emperors had their palaces, and saw over the Circus Maximus, the world’s largest sports arena.

For the final part of the tour, we heading into the Roman Forum, once the downtown of the Roman Empire, and thus, kind of the center of the entire world.

The entire tour probably lasted between 3-4 hours, and we were engaged the entire time.

I’m a big fan of walking tours in general.  There’s a number of quality tour companies in Rome and in general they are all worthwhile – the more you’re able to invest, the more likely you’ll have a smaller group size and a more knowledgeable guide.  Visiting many of these sites on your own, without any additional information or guide, can be an underwhelming experience, so I do recommend doing a tour.

Having the VR glasses was a nice addition too, especially for kids, who can be hard to keep interested.  I also felt that our guide was great with kids too – she was happy to get questions and visibly pleased to be able to answer them in a way that kept more questions coming.

The price of their tours are slightly higher than other similar tours, due to the VR glasses, but you get to keep them afterward, and they work for other sites as well (and for other VR apps).  They also offer a guide that’s full of recommendations that go behind the sites – food, markets, shopping, etc.

For more information, check them out at:

LivItaly Tours 

Skype: livitaly.tours 
Vicolo del Divino Amore 18a, Rome

 

Where to store bags in Venice before or after check in/out?

by Toni DeBella

There are many upsides to booking a vacation rental property in Venice.  Some of these include budget-friendliness, convenience, room to spread out, and kitchens to prepare some of your own meals.

But what if you arrive in town way ahead of your check-in time (generally around 3pm) and/or there’s a space between the 11am check-out and your train or flight departure? With 3 hours to kill, what ever will you do with your bags?

Although a handful of properties may have reception areas or offices that will hold your bags, most are privately owned and don’t offer this service. You don’t really want to be sipping your Bellini in St. Mark’s Square – having to keep one eye on the beautiful architecture and the other on your Samsonite, do you?  It’s a myth that rolling bags are prohibited in Venice, however, dragging them up and down tiny footbridges all morning may not be your idea of fun.

Your worries are over…

Located in the historic center of Venice, a 4-minute stroll from both Piazza San Marco and the famed Rialto Bridge, Venice Luggage Deposit provides a solution to one of the most common travel dilemmas.

Called a deposito bagagli in Italian, Venice Luggage Deposit offers reasonably priced, per-day holding of your luggage, with discounts for multiple bags.  Special delivery service is available and they also accept oversize or unconventional items (i.e., surfboards) – but that costs a little bit more.  If you prefer, you can also make arrangements beforehand online, although no appointment is necessary – just drop ‘em and go!

You’re now ready to roam the winding streets and canals of Venice, hands free.

Venice Luggage Deposit
Castello 5496, Calle de la Malvasia
Email: info@veniceluggagedeposit.com
(+39) 041 476 4907; Cell (+39) 320 294 05 00
Hours: 9:30am to 5:30pm (holidays included)

 

Time, Italian Style

The numbers we use to understand time might be universal, but as a concept it’s culturally malleable.  For example, in Germany, a place where things are precise, an appointment for 2pm means you are expected there at 2pm.

In the US, a culture of eagerness and over-achievement, for that same appointment, one would expect someone to show up between 1:45 pm and 2 pm if they were serious about it. Maybe 2:05 pm if they weren’t.

In Italy, an appointment for 2pm really means anywhere from, say, 2:30pm to…  never.  

Being late in Italy doesn’t warrant an apology, nor does it have to actually be acknowledged.  One can even exercise their right to not show up at all and offer no explanation.

The concept of time is flexible and changes based on where you go, and in Italy it’s incredibly flexible.  There’s a whole vocabulary in Italian of vague terms that refer to how long things will take:  un’ oretta (a small hour), una decina di giorni (10-ish days), and there’s the different ways to interpret time too, such as “90 days” which could mean literally, 90 days from today, or it could mean 90 “working days” which can take 7 months or more.

It’s basically all meaningless unless, of course, we’re talking about food, in which case time is not so flexible.  

In many countries, we eat when we feel like it.  Breakfast for dinner, 24 hour restaurants, etc.  But in Italy, one doesn’t eat lunch at 11:30.  Ever.  Dinner at 5:00pm?  An Italian would think, “what the hell is that?”.  It makes no sense here to eat dinner that early.

Time in Italy revolves around food.  Think of the clock like this:

Generally speaking, the morning lasts until 12pm, when lunch time (pranzo) begins, lasting until 3pm.  Morning is also the only time one would have breakfast, which in itself is optional – although lunch is not!

Between those times you can have a merenda (a snack) or getting closer to dinner you can go for an aperitivo.  Coffee you can have anytime, but milky coffee drinks only in the morning – while a cappuccino is frowned upon in the afternoon, a caffè latte is tolerated.  And a milky coffee drink is not an apertivo or dessert.

Aperitivo time (what we call wine-o’clock) can be 6:00, maybe 6:30pm, and goes on either until dinner, or can even substitute for dinner depending where you have your aperitivo.

Dinner (cena) begins around 7, 7:30pm when restaurants re-open.  But if an Italian invites you to dinner at their home, they probably expect you there between 8 and 9pm.

All those other numbers that mark the non-food related times of the day?  When in Italy, don’t worry about them.
The moral here is twofold: when traveling in Italy, don’t stress too much about being late.  Go with the flow. Unless it comes to meal times, in which case plan exactly where you’ll be and when so you don’t get caught in that dead zone between 3pm and 7pm.

And remember, l’ora di pranzo è sacra (the lunch hour is sacred).


Family Activities in Rome during the Holiday Season

by Shannon Kenny of ItaliaKids and Elaia Travel

The Christmas holidays are a wonderful time to visit the city of Rome as a family, when the city is adorned festively on what seems like every corner and in every piazza, and the weather is typically still mild. The season in Italy runs from around December 22 to January 6 on the Feast of the Epiphany.

Lucky Italian kids will exchange gifts of sweets and handicrafts with family members and receive a visit from Father Christmas on Christmas Day, when they celebrate by feasting and playing games such as tombola with generations of relatives for good fortune in the New Year, and also on the eve of the Ephiphany, when La Befana, a legendary old lady who rides in on a broom, places treats and gifts in the stockings of good children, and leaves only coal for those who have misbehaved. The La Befana tradition is especially rooted in the history of Lazio, and during the holidays Piazza Navona is transformed into the La Befana Christmas market with lights and decorations, a carousel, and rows of stalls filled with traditional Christmas crafts, ornaments, candied nuts, and typical holiday sweets. Rumor has it La Befana herself occasionally makes an appearance, peering out from a window in the piazza at midnight on January 6…

Another holiday family favorite in Rome is the charming temporary ice rink set up adjacent to the play park next to Castel Sant’Angelo, arguably the best “rink with a view” around. There is also a seasonal outdoor rink at the Parco della Musica, which is transformed into a Christmas Village with music, entertainment, an antique carousel, market stalls, and…of course Santa is there as well. The Christmas markets throughout the city, at Parco della Musica, and in other locales such as the Villa Borghese and Villa Celimontana, play stage to puppet shows and traditional musical performances during the season. Check family event listings on Italiakids.com, Wanted in Rome, and In Rome Now for up-to-date information.

In addition to the live Nativity scenes throughout the city, most famously in St. Peter’s Square, which is revealed at midnight on Christmas Eve, Piazza del Popolo hosts an annual show of hundreds of antique Nativity scenes (presepi) at the Sale del Bramante in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Or the kids can make their own Nativity scenes and learn how Rome has celebrated the season since antiquity at the Arte al Sole arts and cultural holiday workshops in English near Piazza Navona while you enjoy some grown-up time shopping or lingering over lunch.

As is the case with almost every season, many of your family’s memories will likely touch on food during your visit. Romans celebrate on Christmas Eve with a simple menu of fried fish and vegetables, and enjoy a long lingering lunch of roast meats the next day. Bakeries are filled with seasonal sweets and golden-hued cakes like panettone, pandoro, and the Roman pangiallo—so make sure to stop by the forno in Campo dei Fiori, not the least for the smell. Every dessert table will also likely be set with a welcoming bowl of juicy mandarins.

On New Year’s Eve the city is itself a spectacle of music, street performance, and fireworks lighting up iconic views in sites that have hosted such revelries for several millennia, a chance for your family to make new memories while experiencing living history through Roman traditions of celebration.

About the Author
Shannon Kenny is Editor-in-Chief of Italiakids.com, an online resource for families traveling in Italy, Director of the children’s cultural program Arte al Sole, with 6 locations in Italy, and Founding Partner of Elaia Travel, a specialty travel concierge with expertise in family travel to Europe.