Where in the world can you still send a telegram? [Map]

Telegrams may have gone the way of the steam engine, but there are number of places around the world, from Japan to Mexico, still sending them.

The news about India shuttering its 162-year-old telegram service sounded like the last, labored puff of a country making progress into a bold new era.

So I wondered where people are still using them as a swift, inexpensive means to send condolences and well wishes on important occasions. (An outfit called – what else? – iTelegram took over from Western Union for the U.S., though I can’t remember ever sending or receiving a telegram here.)
Continue reading

Striking Distance: Italian Protests Turn “Virtual”

That Italians are frequently mad as heck and not going to take it any more is evident to anyone who has been surprised by a bus, train, or airline strike in the Bel Paese.

Compared to US counterparts, who strike for about 40 days a year, Italians cross their arms in protest about 100 days a year, or 150% more, according to European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures.

Recently, the number of transport strikes in Italy has exploded (as I found out when supermarket shelves emptied), up to 1,000 a year in 2007-2008.

As part of an omnibus bill crawling its way through the Italian parliament, strikers would be forced to protest “virtually” to guarantee basic public services. They stay on the job but workers would be docked the day’s pay. The company must match that wage; both sums go into a worker’s comp fund.

Virtual strikes would help avoid the paralysis of wildcat strikes, called “savage” strikes or scioperi selvaggi in Italian.

If Italians are willing to strike for spaghetti — and even models will strike a pose for better rights — are they ready to take what was in the streets virtual?

UPDATE: The Italian cabinet unanimously approved the draft law greenlighting the notion of ‘virtual’ strikes.

Image used with a CC license, thanks to rete studenti massa.

Italian Inmates Work on Al Capone’s Farm

Inmates at Milan’s Opera prison work on a farm named after famed gangster Al Capone.

The name, Fattoria di Al Cappone, is a play on words from the Italian “capone” or capon, though the 15-or so men who work here raise quail and a few crops.

In 300 square meters on prison grounds (about 3,200 square feet), they raise the birds whose eggs are sold at a nearby Coop supermarket and a farmer’s coop, Consorzio Cascina Nibai, in the outskirts of Milan.

Launched a few months ago, the farm is the brainchild of journalist Emilia Patruno, a long-time prison volunteer whose association il due also developed the “stolen kisses” chocolates project.

Funded by a bank, before hitting the hoes inmates followed training courses given by the farmer’s coop. The group is working on a new potato, a purple Andean variety, that it hopes to patent for when the Expo comes to Milan in 2015.

Image courtesy Fattoria Al Capone.

24 Karat Tuscany: Gold Found in Them Hills

Golden Tuscany

The rolling hills of Maremma near Grosseto are normally just considered a goldmine for tourists, but after two years of searching, geologists have found “significant” gold deposits in Tuscany.

“This is a land full of gold. Hundreds of indications point to it. Now the scope of our research is to search for a deposit,” geologist Franco Maranzana told Italian newspapers. “Because only if there is, as we suspect and hope, all the work we’ve done in recent years can become a business.”

Two Canadian firms are hunting for gold under the Tuscan sun, Adroit resources and Tuscan Minerals. They have permits to search in areas including: Follonica, Suvereto, Campagnatico, Manciano and Scansano, the hilly country better known for producing Morellino di Scansano DOGC wines.

Recession has just made the gold rush stronger. Analysts expect a gold price hike in 2009, which would make mining a more profitable business. The rub? Permits for research are some of the cheapest in Europe ( €8-9 euros a hectare) but mining permits are more difficult to wrangle. Both firms have research permits that will allow them to see if they can strike gold in 2009.

Tips for villa surfing in Italy, or how to survive August

August in Italy can be a cruel month. Well, not if you’re a job-for-life employee who gets six weeks paid vacation for whom the eighth month of the year can be quite pleasant.
For freelancers, it can be hellish. From about the second half of July to September 1, trying to work or get paid requires the same kind of skill plus dumb luck as winning at the card game sette e mezzo.
One is wise to take time off then, but since a good chunk of the inhabitants of the peninsula are crisping flesh at the country’s resorts, prices can be prohibitive.
The nice thing about Italy, though, is the large number of people with vacation homes who open their doors. Often they are splendid doors, proper old villa doors, doors that open on to terraces, pools or your own private-room-with-bath-and-a-view doors.

They can also, however, be doors that open because pseudo-somnambulist husbands wander in or where those precious few bambini Italians have today are determined to enforce their reputation as the most unruly in the EU.
Following one disastrous outing at a clapboard dump in the hills near Florence where stray cat hairs were the inevitable condiment to every pasta dish, I vowed to get it right.
Turning to “The Cosmo Girl’s Guide to The New Etiquette” (1971) — whose chapter entitled “Scorn Not the Street Compliment” had made early days in Italy much easier — I decided to update, if only slightly, the guidelines on couch surfing.
Here are the questions every girl should ask before packing a beauty case:
1. Will I put someone out of a bedroom?
This to determine whether you’ll be stuck on a couch. What Cosmo said back then still holds true: “At the risk of sounding bourgeosis…insist on a clean, comfortable bed in a bedroom…” Testify, sister.
2. Does it get cold at night…should I bring warm clothes?
Suss out whether the beach house is clammy or that 14th-century palazzo with huge stone walls has central heating. Key.
3. Who else will be there?
After spending one country weekend with great uncle Adolfo and aunt Clementina (great conversationalists but they retired at 9 pm, imposing a de facto curfew), it’s better to know in advance.
4. Is there someone who might give me a ride?
Trains are often the best way to get around Italy, especially with summer traffic. If no one is willing to pick you up from the station — often the affable, barbecue-skilled, non-sleazy husbands volunteer — and you must rely on regional bus systems, you are in trouble.
5. Is there cell phone reception? Internet?
This is a new entry. It’s important to know if you’ll be cut off from civilization or not. Prepare ahead if there’s no reception: print train schedules, any info on attractions/distractions nearby and buy a phone card in case the need for an emergency airlift arises.
And, finally, for all the questions you can’t politely ask, think ahead. I have been placed in perfectly nice rooms without curtains (sleep mask) or with construction work going on in the house or nearby (ear plugs) or clouded by mosquitoes (plug-in machine, plus repellent, plus post-bite lotion). Naturally, one can’t prepare for everything, but with a little thinking, buone vacanze are likely.