Monday, February 25, 2013

Italian Elections--The American & Italian Student 'Vote'

Not only did Italians vote in an all-important national election yesterday and today, but
American and Italian students in Florence expressed their preferences as well.  This was the result of a political conference which took place at the Florence campus of Pepperdine University involving their students as well as students from the University of Florence.

As can be seen in the photo above, the ballots in the mock election were facsimiles of the actual
Italian ballot--no names, just party symbols.  At stake are the seats--with a few exceptions--of the entire Italian Parliament, from the House of Deputies to the Senate, up to and including the Prime Minister.
Pepperdine in Florence director Elizabeth Whatley is holding the the ballot box
 containing the newly-cast votes.
As we are going to press, Italian polls officially closed an hour ago, and the entire country is waiting for the results with bated breath.  In the meantime, your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger can report
the student results:  41% support the coalizione di sinistra (the center-left alliance, including
Bersani's Democratic Party and Vendola's Left, Ecology and Liberty movements);
15.3% are for the center coalition, with lists headed by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti,
Casini and Fini;  15.3% for the Movimento Cinque Stelle (the anti-politician, populist movement created by the angry comic Beppe Grillo);  15.3% in favor of the coalizione di destra,
the right-wing coalition run by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
(who up to now gives the impression that he was prepared to even rise from the dead in order to participate.  Forgive my unprofessional comment as a journalist).  The Ingroia list (Civil Revolution) headed by this former Mafia prosecutor received not a single vote, while five ballots were declared null and void (schede bianche).

How did the participating students arrive at their decision?  Prior to the election,
Professor Alessandro Chiaramonte of Florence University's political science department
gave an explanation of the Italian political system, including historical background (above).  His speech was followed by presentations of each political coalition or party in English by selected students.
Here a student is talking about the Movimento Cinque Stelle, whose five star logo is next to a picture of its leader, Beppe Grillo.  The audience learned that Cinque Stelle political agenda stresses ecology and energy, is strongly anti-euro, while calling for a complete and radical renewal of the political elite, in addition to promoting online bureaucracy and free access to the Internet.
Grillo himself has taken the unprecedented step of declaring that he is not running for a seat
 in the Italian Parliament.

Those in attendance learned that the Italian Parliament is composed of
the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
Although Italy has 60,000,000 inhabitants as compared to the U.S. population of 300,000,000,
the Chamber of Deputies comprises 618 members versus 435 congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Italian Senate is made of of 315 senators--excluding a handful of senators-for-life appointed for merit--versus 100 elected U.S. Senators.
Another student is talking about the left spectrum of the Italian party system, characterized by a platform that emphasizes jobs, education and sustainable development, civil and social rights (including civil unions for gays), and a United States of Europe.  Apparently what he said was convincing, as the Center-Left Alliance won the most votes in the mock election.

The gentle reader may ask why such an unusual subject is featured in Beautiful Florence?
Your faithful blogger, along with professional photographer Marco Giacomelli (on loan from our publishing company's English language magazine Vista, Florence & Tuscany), find quite beautiful as well as extraordinary the intercultural dialogue--resulting in informed political expression--organized as a joint effort by Pepperdine and Florence University.
In this way, the American students also feel part of the country they are currently living in,
 not just temporary guests.
Also, the roots of Beautiful Florence find support in the vibrant, living continuity intrinsic to the discoveries and traditions of Florence's remarkably beautiful past.

Where does Beautiful Florence go from here?

This past Friday, center candidate Prime Minister Mario Monti concluded his campaign in Florence, home of the Renaissance, to underscore that he would like to work towards a rebirth of Italy, a new Italian Renaissance.  A brave gesture in the stronghold of a strongly left constituency.
In any case, Beautiful Florence will report on the outcome of this election and compare it to the student vote.  Along the way, the Italian national vote will recount, as Professor Chiarmonte stated,
 whether the agony of the Italy's Second Republic will continue or
or if the outcome signals the birth of the Third Republic.

reporting live from Beautiful Florence 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Traditional Tuscan Carnival Desserts

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday in Italy and all predominantly Catholic countries.
Lent is a time of self-examination, of mental spiritual and physical cleansing
that ends with Easter, symbolized by the Resurrection.
Yet, here in Tuscany, a respite can be obtained by
indulging in typical pre-Lent Carnival desserts that continue after Mardi Gras to be available
 in local cafés and bakeries.
One is schiacciata alla fiorentina (above), whose golden color comes from locally grown
saffron, which is mixed with flour, yeast, eggs, vanilla and sugar.  Always dusted with powdered sugar,  a more decadent version is layered with whipped cream.
 As its name implies, it is a speciality of Florence.
While every Italian housewife (including my later mother) also makes these at home, this sweet varies in name according to the Italian region.  In Tuscany these scraps of dough composed of flour, eggs, a little sugar and usually a touch of alcohol--either Vin Santo, rum or sherry--are known as cenci (rags).  Locally they are also called chiacchere (talk or gossip) as in pre-TV Italy, it was the custom that friends would gather at home for hot cenci, coffee and conversation.
 Cenci are best served just at the moment when they are deep fried (peanut or olive oil), cut with a pastry wheel and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
A simple dessert that is soul-satisfying.
As mentioned, schiacciata alla fiorentina and cenci provide warm respite during the pre-Lent Carnival period as well as most of Lent.  Towards the end of Lent, fritelle (above) appear.
Again, many an Italian housewife makes these at home especially on Sunday.
Fritelle herald the arrival of the Feast of St. Joseph (March 17), a sort of unofficial Italian
Father's Day.  Boiled rice enriched with milk, eggs, golden raisins and grated lemon zest are shaped into balls, deep fried and brought to the table hot with a dusting of granulated sugar.
Fritelle are richer than cenci and just as irresistible.

When in Tuscany, blog photographer Bree Chun and I suggest you stop at a café and enjoy these local winter specialties.  And, before you know it, the local Italian parish priest will ring the door bell, sprinkle holy water and bless your home, afterwards waiting quietly for the expected donation.
 Yet another pre-Easter tradition here in Beautiful Florence.