Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Il ponte

It's Wednesday evening and, quite naturally, the start of the weekend. Tomorrow is June 2, the anniversary of the founding of the Republic, a worthy national holiday when offices and shops will be shut so that those of us stuck in Rome can wander about aimlessly looking for a fresh carton of milk and pack of biscotti. Friday unofficially is "il ponte" -- or the bridge, a structure the continental Europeans conceived during the Industrial Revolution to turn a national holiday into an extended weekend. The end result is a 4-day weekend here in Italia and reason for Romans to pack up and get out of town tonight.

Extended holiday weekends seem to sneak up on me here. My first instinct is I almost wish people wouldn't discuss them so brazenly in public. Somebody -- an authority figure, maybe -- will tally them up some day and take some away from us. Won't they? But maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. You see, I'm beginning to question the value of having every other Tuesday and Thursday in May off. Holidays are special because they're rare. They are good for morale because they seem like a stroke of charity from long-dead politicians, war heroes and saints. Too many holidays breed family strife, at best, and, at worst, a sense of entitlement from an uninspired workforce.

I know I'm the new guy around here, and my opinion doesn't count for niente, but I have to point out a few other things that don't square up regarding this generous holiday rotation. Firstly, we just finished with May, a month packed with national holidays and Christian holy days, which came shortly after the extended Easter break that started in late March and ended seemingly in mid-April. Somewhere in there, the pope died, leaving a string of impromptu holidays and days of mourning.

I don't mean to be keeping score here, but May was also a month of strikes. By my count, the train union, bus union and airport union all took a day (the bus union, two days) and always on a Monday or Friday when the weather was nice. Then there was a Friday in mid-May for a general strike. On strike days, most things get cancelled as crossing the city becomes a nightmare. And lastly, Italy is now in recession for its second straight year, a point I only mention here because of what Berlusconi said a few weeks back. Italians on holiday -- in this case, Italians on holiday outside of Italy -- was the reason the economy hit the skids a second straight year, Berlusconi said in his usual illogical way.

Could too many holidays have contributed to this slip, zio Silvio? I think we'll need some time off to answer that one.

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