Monday, May 29, 2006

Measuring Italian prosperity, one granita at a time

Greetings from the office. Yes, it's a working day here in Italy, a rarity for a Monday in May. I have been lax in my reporting of late as I run around the continent trying to make a living. What have you missed?

Italian soccer, or il calcio, is embroiled in yet another match-fixing scandal, this time involving several top clubs and ex-Berlusconi cabinet members. Of course, the scandal has struck at the heart of Italy's World Cup chances as its goal keeper was swept up in the investigation on allegations of betting on matches and coach Marcello Lippi has spent more time with prosecutors than with the club the past few weeks.

Over the weekend, we learn, that Berlusconi's bumbling finance minister Giulio Tremonti was downplaying the severity of Italy's budget defecit. It's not 4.5 percent of GDP. It's worse. (My favourite Tremonti moment came in the run-up to election when he told an interviewer that the reason Italian GDP growth fell to nearly zero last year was simply because of a quirk of the calendar -- there were more holidays in '05, he said sincerely. Without those holidays, the Italian economy would be fine.) Now, the new Prodi government is saying Italians may have to do without road works and railway improvements until public finances are brought in line. Expect more bad news in the coming weeks as Prodi's team moves into office, inheriting the Berlusconi house of cards.

Closer to home, I am seeing shoots of promise and economic recovery. Why is that? Shortly after the New Year, the neighborhood bakery closed up shop (as did a bar, a barber shop and a change in management at the tanning salon). Well, today a new bakery, or forno, opens from the ashes of its rather sub-par predecessor. But this one is Sicilian! Sicilian pastries, breads and, we hope, granita, 50 steps from my front door. Bring on the economic collapse of this G8 member. I won't starve!

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