Video: Italian Hand Speak

Inspired by Sara Rosso’s video of Italians dancing with their hands, I took my Flip HD out to Milan’s Piazza Duomo to capture a bit of hand jive for practice.

A couple of random observations: most of the pairs, for as much as they vary in age, sex, etc., have one person doing the talking and the gesticulating. Non-Italians often think everyone here flails with their arms as they speak, but as you can see, the movements are more like punctuation: concise, controlled, specific.

My favorite is probably the guy near the metro stairs who “draws” elaborate figures while entertaining his friend. This guy really did quite a dance around with his arms and was hypnotizing to watch.

This was a lot harder to shoot than I would’ve thought: even in Milan where you can easily stumble out for a cappuccino find yourself in a fashion shoot, a movie set or someone’s holiday snaps, people are aware you’re filming them. (Sara turned her camera on some relatives for those great close-ups).

I’d like to shoot a companion version in Southern Italy for contrast — next time I’m closer to the Boot heel I will — but I expect that there it’ll be even more challenging to get close enough with such a small camera.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Italians Use Laser to Combat Counterfeits

To combat food fraud, Italians have developed new laser techniques to determine whether that extra virgin olive oil is really as pure as the label says.

Researchers at Florence’s Institute of Applied Physics teamed up with the photonics researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel to devise a series of high-tech tools that can also be applied to beer and milk.

By zapping olive oil with fiber-optic and micro-optic devices and using a technique called scattered colorimetry obtained a “signature” for extra virgin olive oils that can attest to authenticity as well as fatty acids and antioxidant content that make olive oil good for you.

Micro-optic sensors are also employed to detect aging aromas. After running tests, researchers also developed a software that can monitor nutrition content from pressing to bottle.

What does this mean for the average shopper? Researchers are at work on smart bottle caps that can tell before you do that the green gold has had better days or keep olive oils that have been mixed with by-products, such as olive residue, off the shelves.

The research highlights the importance of olive oil a cornerstone of the traditional Italian diet — researchers here believe it is “brain food” for children — and the national preoccupation with “counterfeit” or falsely labeled foods.

Image: CC-licensed, thanks to Shishberg on Flickr.

Complex Legal System? Italy’s Justice Minister Finds There’s an App for That


Italy’s Justice Minister used an iPhone to cite a wiretapping law during a prime-time talk show.

Minister Angelino Alfano, best known outside Italy for a controversial immunity law meant to save the bacon of beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, pulled out a iPhone clad in a patriotic tricolor sticker to consult an app called Laws and Codices (Codici and Leggi).

The 19.99 euro app promises to guide users through Italy’s notoriously complicated legal system, which often makes the old quip true that “in Italy, under the law, everything is permitted, especially that which is prohibited.”

Alfano used it on the show to quote verbatim a much-debated law on wiretapping, the talk show was about the “war over wiretaps,” which has again exploded recently.

While there’s no shortage of politicians who use Apple products — of late iPad aficionados Norway’sPrime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Russian premier Dimitri Medvedev –  this may be the first time one relies on an app to get it right in public.

Via iPhoner, hat tip to Andrea Nepori

Italian City Hall Uses Emoticons to Gauge Customer Satisfaction

By Nicole Martinelli, Contributor

In Italy, the fashion capital of Milan is looking to improve customer satisfaction with emoticons. At the city hall, touch screens offer Italians a green smiley face if satisfied or a red frowney face if displeased.

Locals are all smiles now that they can zap public employees with angry little faces for slow or surly service with the touch of a finger.

At Milan’s city hall, an emoticon satisfaction system provides touch screens where citizens give instant feedback by pressing a green smiley face when pleased, a yellow face for sufficient service, or a red frowney face.

Those who see red get an additional screen with four choices from which to select: Was it the wait time, the service itself, the need for a return visit, or something else?

Last month, those expressive little faces spread to 1,000 touch screens in 130 public administrations. Plans are to extend the emoticon system to 5,700 small towns, giving some 30 percent of Italians the chance to express themselves electronically.

Full story in the Christian Science Monitor

iPhone Apps Put Shroud of Turin in Focus

Pilgrims trekking Italy to ogle the the Shroud of Turin, on public display for the first time in a decade, now have iPhone apps to help them see more.

Last time thousands of visitors flocked to peek at the yellowed cloth said to depict the face of Jesus, the best mobile option was probably some lame WAP browser.

This time around, iPhone apps can help negotiate the challenges of Italian travel — opening hours, monuments off the grid — with the flick of a finger.

iSindone (“sindone” is Italian for holy shroud) costs $0.99, and offers opening times, directions for getting there and info on the cathedral. There’s also a hi-res image of the shroud, rumored to be a medieval fake, which may give you a better look than the quick drive-by visitors get of the real thing.

Instant Turin, gratis for the next two weeks in honor of the shroud unveiling, promises to steer you clear of restaurants with dreaded tourist menus and get you to the Mole on time.

The official app, also called Sindone, costs $3.99, and promises to help keep your stay organized and running smoothly.

And, if you need to walk off the chocolate and Barolo, try the sprawling gardens of Venaria Reale outside Turin — just remember to get bus times and hours handy or printed out or you will risk getting stranded.

Replicas to Bring Painter Caravaggio Back Home

Last fall, a group of specialists worked late into the night, perched on scaffolding in a Roman church, trying to copy Caravaggio’s “Inspiration of St. Matthew,” rendering the image true right down to the subject’s dirty feet. Every night for two weeks, they set up a scanner to photograph the Contarelli Chapel paintings, part of a project to make a facsimile of the baroque master’s works for a research center in Caravaggio slated to open this September.

Meanwhile, two years ago in Venice, a lifesize facsimile of Paolo Veronese’s monumental work “Wedding at Cana” drew 20,000 visitors in three months, while the real 16th-century masterpiece is often ignored by tourists waiting to see the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre museum in Paris.

Another state-of-the art copy — of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan — attracted nearly 55,000 visitors to an exhibit so popular the dates were extended twice. It was an unexpected hit born out of compromise. Director Peter Greenaway was asked to create a short film to project over the original Renaissance fresco at Santa Maria delle Grazie but officials got cold feet about crowds and conservation. His 20-minute short was projected only once over the original to a handful of dignitaries during the 2008 International Milan Furniture Fair. Shown over a high-resolution copy at nearby Palazzo Reale, the installation stayed open for five months.

Whether to rewrite history or reinterpret masterpieces, replicas made with a palette of high-tech tools are changing the way tourists see art.

All three of these faithful fakes are the work of Madrid-based Factum Arte, a company that employs high-resolution 3-D scanners of its own devising to reproduce artworks.
The scans result in thousands of files whose images are stitched together, then churned out by flatbed pigment printer onto canvas primed with historically accurate paints. To get the clone closer to the real thing, conservators fill in any ridges or creases from manhandling or restoration by hand afterward.
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Priest launches mother-in-law training to curb divorce

Meddling mother-in-laws have been the basis of jokes, pop songs, and heartbreak probably since men dragged their young brides back to the family cave.

One enterprising Italian priest, convinced that in-laws are behind the country’s increasing divorce rate, has devised a class to teach them to help rather than wreak havoc on their children’s relationships.

Called “Families in Dialogue – How to be Effective Parents to Married Children,” the course is taught by three psychologists and is open to both male and female in-laws.

Held over the course of three weekends in the northeastern city of Udine, sessions are dedicated to such hot-button topics as surviving Sunday lunch (a little over half of Italians still meet for this weekly ritual) and negotiating babysitting duties.

The idea for the anti-meddling class grew out of the problems that Don Giuseppe Faccin had while teaching pre-matrimonial classes.

“Statistics show very clearly that at least three out of 10 Italian marriages are in crisis due to the in-laws,” Faccin told local daily Il Messagero Veneto. “Sometimes the problem is both in-laws. More often than not, we have to work on the relationship between the parents.”

Strong ties in Italian families are often at the root of the problem: at age 29, 70% still of Italian men still live at home and even when they leave the nest, one in three talk to la mamma every single day.

“When children get married, parents should regain their own balance as a couple again, but often they’ve spent so much time caring for adult children that they don’t know how,” Faccin explained. “So they throw their energy into their children’s marriage, intervening in ways that aren’t helpful. Even as grandparents for lack of other projects and ways to spend free time they end up interfering more than helping.”

You have to wonder if a truly invasive in-law would sign themselves up for such a course, though.

CC-licensed photo, thanks vanz.

Vatican Approved Prayer App Now Gratis

The Italian priest who created the only Vatican-approved prayer app has now slashed the price from $0.99 to gratis.

Given the popularity of the iBreviary app, Don Paolo Padrini decided to give the current version away for free. (Profits from the app previously went to refurbishing a parish shelter.)

Available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and an Ambrosian Rite version (for mobile Milanese), this virtual breviary, or book of hours, gives the morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer or complines for the day. It is the first app of its kind to obtain approval from the Vatican.

As a paid app, it was in the top 100 of its category (reference) beating out similar mobile prayer helpers like iPieta and iMissal.

What’s next? Don Padrini tells us his developers are hard at work on an iPad version they hope will be ready to launch when the new device hits stores.

Barter for a Bed at Italian B&B

If you’re short on cash but with some kind of marketable skill — photography, a foreign language, accounting — a Milan bed and breakfast just may be the ticket.

At Bed & Breakfast Porta Garibaldi in central Milan you can trade your talents for a place to sleep year round. The idea is the brainchild of owner Alessandra Maggioli, who also lets the studio apartment which can sleep a couple or two singles for 90 to 130 euros a night pictured above. So far Maggioli has accepted a case of good wine for a weekend, a painting by a young artist and another guest is helping her design a web site.

If you don’t need a place to crash in Milan but would like to barter plan ahead: there’s a whole circuit of Bel Paese B&Bs that for one week a year accept trades instead of cash. This year it falls from November 15-21, you can check out offers on the website.

Smart swappers may want to stay where it’s warmer or where there’s something nearby to do — nothing worse than a seaside town shut down for fall — but the idea is a good one.

An easy swap that comes to mind would be a quick, accurate translation of individual B&B websites in English or other languages.

Italian “World’s Most Romantic Language” Survey Says


A micro-survey of 320 linguists found that l’italiano tops their list for the most romantic tongue.

In the inevitable battle with French, Latin lovers from across the Alps came out slightly ahead, with Italian winning 45% to 40%.

Spanish, surprisingly, came out as the ratty pajamas and curlers of languages with its romantic quotient stalled at just 6%, tied with English. Portuguese came in last of the top five with 3%.

Sure, a sample size of 320 people isn’t exactly representative, but the idea that these are specialists — from the 2,600 translators and interpreters at Today Translations in London — makes it more interesting.

It’s one thing to think how romantic “l’amore” sounds is in Italian without speaking it, but the respondents are folks who know at least two languages and can, presumably, imagine trysts in them as well.

The top six romantic words in any language, trite as all get out, were also dominated by Dante’s language. Hit the jump for the list. Continue reading