When countries join the European Union, they promise to abide by laws passed by the European insititutions. For such countries to want to join the Union in the first place and for there to be any meaning to this promise, there must be solidarity between the member states, and an understanding that all must obey those rules, and that unhappy consequences will follow in the event of failure.

But countries continue to flaunt rules that contravene EU principles and legislation. They make a mockery of the EU system and they go unpunished. How is the EU to function if countries cannot be certain of its power? Obedient member states are effectively penalised for their good behaviour when other states are allowed to reap all the benefits of EU membership without having to respect less advantageoous conditions of joining the club.

Commentators have recently called for Mario Monti’s government to take urgent action against Italy’s discrimination against foreign lecturers.

The Italian laws on working conditions of foreign lecturers have been found illegal by the European Court of Justice six times. This alone must surely spell out the fact that there is a problem. As with any conglomeration of states, the EU is of course a volatile political cocktail, precariously balancing the interests of all. No country wants to step on the toes of another too much. But the EU must be effective if it is to deserve any respect and be taken seriously.

Flagrant disobedience of the type Italy showcases must not be allowed to continue, the EU institutions must assert themselves and honour the promises the EU has made to its members if it expects its members to do the same.

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You’ve got to love Leonardo da Vinci, artist, inventor, scientist, all around genius and now fashion designer….

Da Vinci’s fashionable foresight

Legendary Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci has inspired a limited edition handbag produced by luxury fashion label Gherardini of Florence.

The bag is named La Pretiosa, or ‘precious’ after a sketch by da Vinci believed to date back to the late 15th century. The design was discovered by da Vinci scholar Carlo Pedretti in 1978 and is believed to have been drawn by the world celebrated artist and inventor around 1497.

Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale di Leonardo da Vinci, in the artist’s home town of Vinci has reconstructed the drawing, and Gherardini of Florence has now reinterpreted the centuries old sketch and created the ultimate vintage handbag.

The company has produced just 99 in over 100 years of fashion design.

The ultimate vintage bag, inspired by 15th century design.

The handbags are made of calfskin and brass, and are being sold along with a book on da Vinci.

The company, founded in 1885 by Garibaldo Gherardini , produced the bag to coincide with the Pitti menswear fashion show which opened on Tuesday.

 

The financial world as we know it is ending, the heavens are crashing down around the Euro, politicians are dropping like flies and economies all over the continent are tightening their belts.

Christmas trees this year might harbour a slightly smaller array of gifts beneath their boughs, Santa might get a mini mince pie and water instead of the usual milk and cookies, stockings might not be filled with presents, but instead be worn on legs that are shivering from living in an unheated house.

How many times has it been lamented in recent years that Christmas has become nothing more than a commercial enterprise? It’s simply a stressful month where the rent is spent on presents and wrapping that will most likely only add to the already chronic amount of waste we dispose of.

Yes the three wise men bought wonderful gifts for Jesus, and gold, frankincense or myrrh were unlikely to have been dirt cheap, but festive fables spout the moral lesson every year that even if the Grinch steals all the presents, Christmas is still a happy time, and even the grumpiest of men can be reformed by the Christmas spirit.

So let us embrace austerity this Christmas, so that we may appreciate, like good old Scrooge and the Grinch, what Christmas is really about; enjoying the company of our families and good (if cheap) food, watching the same old movies we watch every year, and still crying at them just a little bit. We might have to skimp a bit on the heating, but we can still get that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Carol singing and, if you’re lucky enough to get a white Christmas, building a snowman, don’t cost a penny.

Even with the economic crisis, it’s a wonderful life.

I thought it was just a joke, one of things people always say about Italy, that its bureaucracy is a nightmare, it’s run by the mafia, Italians are so passionate, Italians are so angry, blah blah blah. No, believe me Italian bureaucracy really is a horror story, this is what happened when I tried to post a Christmas present:

I spent a lot of time this Christmas painstakingly making hampers for my family and friends at home. I packed boxes with limoncello, panettone, pasta and other Italian delights, and all in all when I trotted off to the Post Office, (well if I could have trotted lugging six hampers I would have), I was feeling very happy with myself, and excited to send them on their voyage across the seas to take their well earned places under the Christmas trees of the families I thought would be very pleased indeed with the gesture.

This was the first time I attempted to post them. I arrived at three minutes past seven, where I was informed that the post office shuts at seven. With a sigh, I lugged the boxes back home, with a little less spring in my trot than before. But no matter, I would get there earlier tomorrow.

So at 6.30pm the next day, I tried again to post the boxes. After finally working out that I had to get a ticket, and umming and ahhing for a while over which ticket I should get from the machine, I managed to get myself into the correct waiting area. I sat there for half an hour. When my number finally flashed red above the counter, I dragged the boxes up. In my very broken Italian and now quite accomplished mime skills, I managed to convey to him, charades-style that I wanted to send them to England.

I got a shake of the head and a stout “no.”

“Perché?” I asked. The boxes I had used had writing on them, the name of my housemate’s company, who had kindly given them to me for the occasion in a fit of festive generosity. Apparently, this makes posting the boxes impossible. So I asked to borrow some parcel tape to cover the offending text with.

Another hearty “no.” A post office which doesn’t stock any parcel tape.

With a sigh, I once again took the boxes home, nowhere near trotting. I would have to wait until tomorrow to buy some tape to cover the writing.

The next day, I triumphantly marched up to the desk, after a mere 20 minutes waiting, with my fully taped up parcels. After filling in countless forms, I asked how much it would cost. I nearly cried when she said 25 Euros each. I had five of them.

Thinking that I would be rather glad when the blessed things had gone, I attempted to swallow my horror and pulled my card out from my purse. The lady took one look and said her favourite word… “no.” I will no longer find that Little Britain sketch with the computer funny.

I couldn’t pay by card. So I asked if it would be OK if I went to the cash machine to draw the money out (of course using wildly flailing hand gestures). I went to the cash machine to find my card had been cancelled by my bank, on suspicion of fraud. Granted this isn’t the fault of Italian bureaucracy, but it did not improve my mood.

I stomped back and took the parcels back once more to my apartment. At least my arms got a good work out, I won’t have to lift weights for a month.

The following day, I approached the post office rather timidly, not daring to hope that I might actually manage to post anything. When my number, P087 flashed, I took a deep breath and walked slowly up to the counter. I shakily placed the parcels one by one on the counter, with the forms they had kindly let me take back with me.

“Per favore?” I whispered.

When the parcels had gone and I had been robbed of my 125 Euros, I swiftly exited the building as fast as I could without breaking into a run that would no doubt raise suspicions as to the nature of the parcels I had just deposited.

One thing is for sure, my grandparents had better bloody like them.

I am currently interning at an english newspaper in Rome, and thought I would share my Italian insights, however unhelpful they may be, with you all.