Monday, December 22, 2008

Valentino Rossi, il vincitore!


Hello my wonderful friends! Oh how I've missed you all!
[Long, Awkward Pause]

This past July, we once again made our annual pilgrimage to Laguna Seca racetrack for the MotoGP race; as I've mentioned before in Blogiorno, MotoGP is the premier motorcycle racing series worldwide, and if a rider can win a MotoGP championship, they are truly World Champion. Fortunately, the spectacle that is the MotoGP United States Grand Prix is only an hour and a half up the coast from my home here in California, making it a very easy journey.

Since the USGP has been in America in the "modern era", I've been cheering on my favorite rider, Italy's Valentino Rossi, hoping for a victory, even praying to our pal Benedict XVI for one, even though I'm not Catholic; that's how desperate I've been. Finally, this year it happened! Not only did Valentino win this race, but he did so in such a way which left no doubt as to who the best motorcycle racer in the world is. He took the lead from Ducati's Casey Stoner on the first lap, and a battle of epic proportions raged for the next 45 minutes, with Stoner finally laying his bike over in the gravel. This race was without a doubt the best race I've ever been to, and perhaps the best MotoGP race I've ever seen; in fact, some seasoned MotoGP commentators have remarked that it was perhaps the best MotoGP race of all time!

At the end, after Valentino won, he stopped his bike at the world-famous "Corkscrew" turn, where he first took the lead, and he kissed the tarmac. Bravissimo!!!

Unfortunately, there was a minor dark cloud: Tom Cruise, his wife Katie and their "entourage" just HAD to watch the event from the Ducati timing stand, right on the racetrack, across from our seats, making us feel like lepers, and effectively sucking the oxygen right out of the race. Yes, Tom and his posse just had to cause a stir, bringing with them the standard paparazzi mayhem. WHAT. A. DRAG. Okay, okay, just kidding Tom, it was great to see you there. Now go away...and let Valentino bask in his well-earned glory!

You must see highlights of this race, so click here.

For more on Valentino, click here.

Grazie mille for reading! Until next time my friends,

Ciao!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vantaggio: La Polizia!*

In Italy there is a new "police car" that is stalking errant drivers on the highways. While Italian law enforcement have been using Italian-made Lamborghinis for some time now, they have recently "upgraded" to a newer model, the Lamborghini Gallardo. The Gallardo has 560 horsepower and a top speed of 203 mph, making it the world's fastest police car. Oh, and it costs about $225,000. Hey, hey, hey, they need it, okay? Those speeders are dangerous criminals, alright?

Anyway, for those of you who aren't familiar with Lamborghini, it is one of the most revered Italian sports car manufacturers in the world, founded in 1963 by tractor company owner Ferruccio Lamborghini. Years ago Ferruccio was unhappy about the quality of the Ferrari sports car he purchased, so he dropped by the Ferrari factory to tell Enzo Ferrari in person. A perturbed Mr. Ferrari told Ferruccio that if he wanted a better car he should build it himself, thus Lamborghini was born. Now, the autostrada in Italy are patrolled not by Ferraris, but by Lamborghinis! Blogiorno believes that this is an excellent use of public funds, and anyway can you really ask Italian policemen to chase speeding bad guys in a regular Fiat? Mai, of course not!

Ciao amici!

* Advantage: Police!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The "New Poor" in Italy

The global economic downturn continues on in its devastating path, my friends. Here is an article about how it is impacting Italy. As always, it is those who can least battle such forces who are affected the most. Failing corporations simply pass along their higher costs to the consumer, then provide sumptuous lifestyles for their executives with that newfound revenue, all in hopes that their leaders will be more "motivated" to rescue the company. At least, that is how it is in America. I've heard it said that, "as America goes, so goes the rest of the world". Economics aside, and speaking in the moral sense, this is too bad, as it seems as though America works hard at exporting paradigms for every social ill and moral degradation to the rest of the world. Examples are intense consumerism, family breakdown and reality T.V. shows featuring angry frat boys with frosted hair and unintelligible ditzy California-esque girls who use the word "like" as a noun, pronoun, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction, etc. God have mercy on us. Or not.

Enjoy!

(You may click on the article to enlarge the text.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Anti-Anorexia Ads in Italy

*** Disclaimer: This entry may be difficult to read and may be offensive to some. It is presented here because it addresses a facet of the devastating problem of eating disorders, something to which I have seen many friends fall prey. This story and the young woman at the center of it struck a chord in me and doubtless will for you as well. ***

In Fall of 2007, an Italian government "watchdog" organization banned controversial billboard ads which had caused much uproar in Milan. The ads featured an unclothed anorexic model in various poses, along with the words, "No Anorexia". You may conclude that the ads were part of a campaign against the deadly disease, but their purpose was not purely altruistic. The ads also doubled as a plug for a new Italian fashion brand, Nolita. Nolita claimed that they commissioned the ads so that they would feature a message to the fashion world, while at the same time advertising their brand. The Italian government differed with Nolita, stating that the ads were offensive.

The woman at the center of the ads is not acting or role-playing in any way, and the photos were not altered. She is a 28 year old french model named Isabelle Caro, and has been suffering from anorexia and bulimia since age 14. She agreed to do the ad in the hopes that she could help people realize the true effects of the disease from which she suffers. Sadly, those effects of her eating disorder were vividly and painfully on display in the ads.

The questions about the Nolita ad campaign still remain debated. Is it proper for billboards (or proper at all)? Is it offensive? Is it pornographic? Is it demeaning to the model or other victims of eating disorders? Is it solely a shrewd and cruel ploy to garner attention for the fashion startup company? Or, is it empowering to those who suffer from eating disorders? Is it a positive step towards shining more light on this affliction? Is it a positive/stern message to an industry which perhaps perpetuates eating disorders via the imagery it purveys? The ethical and moral questions related to this story seem endless.

We here at Blogiorno have never shied away from "controversy" or tough questions, and this is certainly one of those. As always, we invite you to leave your comments. Before commenting, you may wish to watch short news video vignettes about Isabelle to gain the full perspective.

If you would view the news videos of Isabelle Caro, click here.

If you would like to read a BBC article about the banned ads, click here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Italy's New Government: Mamma Mia!

Hello again my friends! I am sorry for my absence here on Blogiorno, but I've been on the island-nation of Madagascar shooting* lemurs. (Madagascar is in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, and the only place where lemurs live in the wild. Yes, I grew up partially in Africa, so I know a few "factoids" about the continent.) Okay then, onward to our post. On this day, July 4, 2008, the 232nd anniversary of America's independence from England--we love you England, really, we do--we turn our attention to those who guide our government. Pictured here is America's president, George W. Bush, about whom I have nothing bad to say, simply because I don't care to jump on "that" bandwagon. I find it distasteful to kick someone when they are down, be it Mr. Bush or his predecessor, William Jefferson Clinton. I suspect that the average critic, if they had to run the United States for a day, would most likely end up under the oval office desk, in the fetal position, wild-eyed and drooling, clutching an official "red, white and blueberry" presidential lolly.

Okay then. Let's turn our attention to the wonderful new government of Italy. As you may know, the Prime Minister of Italia is none other than Silvio Berlusconi, the conservative who recently replaced the well-meaning, left-leaning, Romano "Il Professore" Prodi. Silvio recently swore in his new group of ministers, among whom were a veritable bevy of Italian beauties. Oh yes, Silvio is no dummy; he knows how to get things done. Pictured here are Giorgia Meloni, Maria Stella Gelmini, Mara Carfagna, and Stefania Prestigiacomo, and as you can see from the photo just below, they already have their male colleagues so lovestruck and bewildered that they could, in about 10 minutes time, slam home a measure to have that murdering Seattle-spawned monster Amanda Knox fed to a litter of baby African lions in the Colosseum. On Easter Sunday. With Pope Benedict's blessing. And a childrens' choir singing the Lion King's, "Circle of Life". Yes, such is the power of their beauty.

Of particular note is Ms. Carfagna, who has caused a mild uproar in the world press over her appointment by Berlusconi because she is A) a young 31 years old, B) beautiful, and C) a former pinup model. What the parasitic invertebrates of the press do not understand is that Silvio is a man who sees past these trivial qualities in Ms. Carfagna, and instead sees the tremendous potential for the public good which she can bring--nay, the public good which THEY can bring. He and Mara. Together. Forever. Maybe. Ahem. Anyway, in this photo, Mara Carfagna demonstrates...her commitment to...the environment...by posing by a tree...with dirt smeared on her body. See? That is true commitment my friends. At one point our pal Silvio declared in a government session that he would like to marry Mara (but really now, who wouldn't?). For some unknown reason that Blogiorno is still trying to ascertain, this did not go over well with Silvio's wife, Veronica Lario, who was so upset that she wrote a scathing letter about it to La Repubblica, one of the nation's leading newspapers. Silvio later apologized for his ill-conceived comment. You see, he is not without a heart.

So there you have it, Italy's stunning new cabinet of ministers. Che bellezza! Oh, uh, here in America, we have Hillary Clinton. And Barbara Mikulski . What a rip off. A horrific misuse of public funds in so many ways. It is such a shame we don't follow Silvio's "model" of government. It's just more interesting, don't you agree? There now, of course you do.

Okay then, Silvio and Blogiorno say, Ciao and Grazie Italia!



* photographs of

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Derek Paravicini

Ciao dear friends! I am taking a small detour today, and am featuring an extraordinary British pianist (of Italian descent) named Derek Paravicini. Derek is blind, autistic and severely learning impaired, but he has been given a tremendous gift of music by God. While he cannot see and cannot make much sense of life and things around him, when he sits down at a piano he is simply in command as a virtuoso, playing at the highest possible levels as a pianist. To watch him play is simply awe-inspiring. In this post, I have included links to a British documentary about Derek; the programme is in 5 parts, all of which I've included here. I found this documentary simply riveting and beyond heartwarming. Perhaps "stunning" is the best word I can think of to describe this young man, his abilities and his kind heart.

I must say that I am completely biased toward Derek in this Blogiorno post because I play piano myself, and have done so since age five. It's a lovely instrument and it just "speaks" to me in a way that other instruments do not. So, I have a warm place in my heart for other pianists, and those who do it so beautifully.

Of particular interest for me is that Derek plays piano entirely by ear, as his blindness makes him unable to read music. I also play almost exclusively by ear; while I took piano lessons for several years as a child and adolescent, I could never really relate to notation very well, and rarely, if ever, use it these days. Of course, Derek plays worlds better than I, and his skill is completely innate; he hears things on a supreme, otherworldly level and can translate what he hears to the piano in a completely accurate manner, or even an improvisational manner if he desires. Just brilliant.

Another personal observation is that Derek and I share the same birthday, July 26. How super is that?! (Also born on July 26 is Mick Jagger, thus proving that, for every uplifting thing, there's always a diametrically-opposed sinister thing which threatens to drag you down to the depths of despair...ha, just kidding Mick!)

So that is it for this time, amici miei. I simply was awestruck by this story and wanted to share it with you. However, as I mentioned, Derek has an Italian surname, so that's reason enough to be featured here on Blogiorno!

Please, take some time to watch Derek in the feature, "The Musical Genius". I've provided the YouTube links below. (Please note, you will also be able to click on each of the 5 portions of the programme from within YouTube as well.)




Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


Derek has a CD available for purchase, including on iTunes.

Click here to visit Derek's page on iTunes.

(For Derek's iTunes link above, you will need to have iTunes installed on your machine; otherwise, you will be redirected to the iTunes download page.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Italy Investing in Wind Energy




Italy To Build 500 Wind Plants

(ANSA) - Milan, November 6, 2007 - Italy plans to build 500 more wind plants, according to the Monday economic supplement of Italy's daily Corriere della Sera. With the help of the 500 additional plants Italy plans to reach a 23 gigawatt energy production - ten times higher than what the country is currently producing. The new wind farms will make Italy the world's biggest producer of wind energy, leapfrogging Germany which is now producing 22.6 gigawatts.

In 2006 alone, 417 wind plants were built in Italy, situated mainly in the southern regions of Sicily, Puglia, Basilicata and Molise but also in the central region of Tuscany. Wind energy is the most lucrative type of green energy and is attracting Italian investors such as diversified holding companies Moratti and De Benedetti and big oil companies such as Garrone, according to Corriere della Sera. Italian energy group Enel SpA is also searching for sites with steady wind out of Italy, in Europe.

Meanwhile, Spain's Endesa and Iberdrola are also building plants in Basilicata and Calabria. The biggest investor in wind plants in Italy is the UK-based company International Power.

www.ansa.it

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Wind Energy Facts (from renewableenergyweek.com), with Blogiorno Editorial Notes:

* In 2006, the U.S.'s cumulative wind power capacity was 9,971 MW -- within close striking distance of the 10 gigawatt (10,000 MW) milestone.

[Note, this is capacity; it doesn't mean we actually, like, do it. Or even want to. Compare to Italy's planned capacity of 23 gigawatts, as cited in the story above.]

* 2,500 MW of capacity is enough to power more than 600,000 average American homes.

[For 5 minutes. At 2:00 a.m.]

* Texas edged ahead of California in Wind Energy capacity in 2006.

[They'll need all that power to keep the planned high-voltage electric fences along the border going. For its part, California will install Red Bull vending machines along the border. Requiring purchase of the high-energy Red Bull drinks, rather than freely distributing them, will deter illegals, California officials say.]

* California has led the nation in wind capacity for 25 years, and at one time was host to more than 80 percent of the wind capacity in the entire world. However, energy and electricity prices tanked during the global oil glut of the 1980s, putting California's wind power boom on hold.

[California has made up for this lapse by "proudly" leading the world in the export of attractive-but-talentless, surgically-enhanced, blonde Hollywood "starlets", and their non-famous but equally brainless look-a-like counterparts. Friends, Blogiorno opposes such exports and believes that we must investigate energy-efficient disposal methods for these undesirable, unnatural resources. Our future depends on it.]


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Italy: The Saddest Country?

Happy New Year, cara amici miei! Happy, that is, unless you live in Italy, in which case it will be a very unhappy new year, at least according to some people. I recently read a story in the New York Times about the national mood in Italy these days, which, according to the article, is not so rosy. My friends, I once promised that I would give you all views of Italy, unlike Hollywood’s cheeseball-romantic portrayals of that country in their crummy PG-13 movies. Therefore, I present to you this article, for your thoughtful consideration. As always, I cherish your thoughts and feedback.

(Note: This article originally appeared on the New York Times website; if you would like to read it there, click here.)

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In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment

By IAN FISHER
Published: December 13, 2007

ROME — All the world loves Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk. Because it is the place in a hyper-regulated Europe where people still debate with perfect intelligence what, really, the red in a stoplight might mean.

But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister. “There is more fear than hope.”

The problems are, for the most part, not new — and that is the problem. They have simply caught up to Italy over many years, and no one seems clear on how change can come — or if it is possible anymore at all.

Italy has charted its own way of belonging to Europe, struggling as few other countries do with fractured politics, uneven growth, organized crime and a tenuous sense of nationhood. But frustration is rising that these old weaknesses are still no better, and in some cases they are worse, as the world outside outpaces the country. In 1987, Italy celebrated its economic parity with Britain. Now Spain, which joined the European Union only a year earlier, may soon overtake it, and Italy has fallen behind Britain.

Italy’s low-tech way of life may enthrall tourists, but Internet use and commerce here are among the lowest in Europe, as are wages, foreign investment and growth. Pensions, public debt and the cost of government are among the highest. The latest numbers show a nation older and poorer — to the point that Italy’s top bishop has proposed a major expansion of food packages for the poor.

Worse, worry is growing that Italy’s strengths are degrading into weaknesses. Small and medium-size businesses, long the nation’s family-run backbone, are struggling in a globalized economy, particularly with low-wage competition from China.

Doubt clouds the family itself: 70 percent of Italians between 20 and 30 still live at home, condemning the young to an extended and underproductive adolescence. Many of the brightest, like the poorest a century ago, leave Italy. The stakes have risen so high that Ronald P. Spogli, the American ambassador and someone with 40 years of experience with Italy, warns that it risks a diminished international role and relationship with Washington. America’s best friends, he notes, are its business partners — and Italy, comparatively, is not high among them. Bureaucracy and unclear rules kept United States investment in Italy in 2004 to $16.9 billion. The figure for Spain was $49.3 billion.

“They need to sever the ivy that has grown up around this fantastic 2,500-year-old tree that is threatening to kill the tree,” Mr. Spogli said.

But interviews with possible prime ministers, businesspeople, academics, economists and other Italians suggest that the largest reason for this malaise seems to be the feeling that there is little hope that the ivy can be cut, and that is making Italians both sad and angry.

An Angry Message

“Basta! Basta! Basta!” Beppe Grillo, a 59-year-old comic and blogger with swooping gray hair, howled in an interview. The word means “enough,” and he repeated it to make his point to Italy’s political class clear. In recent months, Mr. Grillo has become the defining personification of Italy’s foul mood. On Sept. 8, he gave that mood a loud voice when he called for a day of rage, to scream across Piazza Maggiore in Bologna an obscenity politely translated as “Take a hike!” A few thousand people were expected. But 50,000 jammed into the piazza, and 250,000 signed a petition for changes like term limits and the direct election of lawmakers. (Voters now cast their ballots for parties, which then choose who serves in Parliament, without the voters’ consent.)

His message was enough inaction and excess (Italian lawmakers are the best paid in Europe, driven around by the Continent’s largest fleet of chauffeured cars), enough convicted criminals in Parliament (there are 24), enough of the same, tired old faces.
“The whole kettle of fish stinks to high heaven!” he yelled. “The stench rises from the sewers and swirls around and you can’t cope.”

Mr. Grillo leans to the political left, but he spares neither side in his sold-out shows and popular blog. The problem, he said, is the system itself.

There is a link between the nation’s errant political system and its worsening mood. Luisa Corrado, an Italian economist, led the research behind the study at the University of Cambridge that found Italians to be the least happy of 15 Western European nations. The researchers linked differences in reported happiness across countries with several socio-demographic and political factors, including trust in the world around them, not least in government.

In Denmark, the happiest nation, 64 percent trusted their Parliament. For Italians, the number was 36 percent. “Unfortunately we found this issue of social trust was a bit missing” in Italy, Ms. Corrado said.

Two popular books that set off months of debate capture the distrust of large powers that cannot be controlled. One, “The Caste,” sold a million copies (in a nation where sales of 20,000 make a best seller) by exposing the sins of Italy’s political class and how it became privileged and unaccountable. Even the presidency, once above the fray, was not spared; the book put the office’s annual cost at $328 million, four times as much as Buckingham Palace.

The other book, “Gomorrah,” which sold 750,000 copies, concerns the mob around Naples, the camorra. But politics, it argues, allows the camorra to flourish, keeping Italy’s lagging south poor, and organized crime, by a recent study, the economy’s largest sector.

These are Italy’s age-old problems, but Alexander Stille, a Columbia University professor and an expert on Italy, argues that this moment is different. While the economy expanded, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Italians would tolerate bad behavior from their leaders.

But growth has been slow for years, and the quality of life is declining. Statistics now show that 11 percent of Italian families live under the poverty line, and that 15 percent have trouble spreading their salary over the month.

“The level of anger is great because before you could slough it off,” Mr. Stille said. “Now life is harder.”

Italians rarely associate the current crop of aging leaders with a capacity to change. They are the same people who have traded terms in power for more than a decade. Last year, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man who became prime minister for the first time in 1994, was voted out for not keeping his promises for American-style growth and opportunities based on merit. When he left office, economic growth was at zero. But it became clear that getting rid of the center-right Mr. Berlusconi would be no magic cure.

Romano Prodi, who had served as prime minister from 1996 to 1998, won, but he was saddled with a shaky coalition of nine warring parties. He promised a clean slate, but his unwieldy center-left government disappointed with its first symbolic act: it appointed 102 cabinet and deputy ministers. He has pushed through two reform packages, and the economy is growing again. “Ours is not a happy situation, but it is better than before,” he said.

But the government has fallen once and threatens to fall again at every difficult vote. Small proposals bring protesters to the streets, one hurdle to making changes as protected interests seek to preserve themselves. Pharmacists shut their doors this year when the government threatened to allow supermarkets to sell aspirin. The cost for just 20 aspirin tablets at a pharmacy is $5.75.

The measure passed, but the government is largely paralyzed. Voters are fed up, and Mr. Prodi’s foes know it. “I understand the bad humor, the malaise,” said Gianfranco Fini, leader of National Alliance, the second-largest opposition party. “People are starting to get strongly angry because you have a government that doesn’t do anything.”

The Generational Divide

“It’s a sadness that what could be isn’t — that we are not a normal country,” said Gianluca Gamboni, 36, a financial adviser in Rome, summing up how he feels about Italy, which he loves, but which drives him insane. Unlike the older generation, he travels and sees how much better things work elsewhere. He does not spare himself: he still lives with his parents, not because he wants to, but because only now, after seven years at his job, can he afford Rome’s high rents. He is finally considering a place of his own.

Mr. Gamboni is on the younger side of Italy’s generational divide — a lens through which many of the country’s problems come into focus. It is one of several subterranean forces, easy to overlook at first, but that taken together make clear how much Italy has changed over the past several decades and how little that change has been digested.

Over a century, ending in the 1970s, 25 million Italians left for better lives elsewhere. Now, Italy is home to 3.7 million immigrants. The Roman Catholic Church’s position is diminishing, from a cultural pillar to a lobbying group.

Politically, Italy seems not to have adjusted to the death, in 1992, of the Christian Democrats, who governed for more than 40 years. Economically, it was once easy to solve problems by devaluing the currency, the lira. That is now impossible with the euro, which has also increased prices, particularly for housing.

Then there is the family. The divorce rate has risen. Large families are a thing of the past. Italy has one of Europe’s lowest birth rates, the fewest children under 15 and the greatest number of people over 85, apart from Sweden. Unemployment is low, at 6 percent. But 21 percent of the population between 15 and 24 did not work in 2006. And the old are not letting go.

Evidence of Italy’s age is everywhere. In parks, clutches of old ladies coo at a single toddler. On television, stars are craggy. (The median age for the presenters of this year’s Miss Italia contest was 70. The winner, Silvia Battisti, was 18.) In the political sphere, Mr. Prodi is 68, Mr. Berlusconi 71.

“The generational problem is the Italian problem,” said Mario Adinolfi, 36, a blogger and an aspiring lawmaker. “In every country young people hope. Here in Italy there is no hope anymore. Your mom keeps you home nice and softly, and you stay there and you don’t fight. And if you don’t fight, it is impossible to take power from anybody.”

“We don’t have a Google,” he added. “We can’t imagine in Italy that a 30-year-old opens a business in a garage.”

Selling a Notion of Italy

In September, word spread through a house of young Romans, over beer and pasta, that Luciano Pavarotti, the tenor and arguably the world’s most famous Italian, had died. “Damn it!” yelled Federico Boden, 28, a student. “Now all we have is pasta and pizza!”

Italy does not seem to rank as it once did for greatness. There is no new Fellini, Rossellini or Loren. Its cinema, television, art, literature and music are rarely considered on the cutting edge. But it does have Ferrari, Ducati, Vespa, Armani, Gucci, Piano, Illy, Barolo — all symbols of style and prestige. What Italy has is itself, and many believe that the future rests in trademarking mystique into “Made in Italy.”

Italian wine was an early test. Producers moved with success from quantity swill to quality. Illy, the coffee house, has flourished by combining quality and uniformity with innovation in methods and style in presentation. “This is where Italians are winners,” said Andrea Illy, the company’s president. “Use your particular strengths, which are beauty and culture.”

But Italian industry depended on low wages, making it vulnerable to competition from China as labor costs rose. Alarms began ringing years ago, with fears that many of Italy’s traditional businesses — textiles, shoes, clothes — could not compete. Many could not. In Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a chair-making capital, the number of chair companies has shrunk to about 800 from 1,200.

“At first they thought this phase would just pass,” said Massimo Martino, director of Maxdesign, a furniture company. “But in reality, many businesses ended up closing because fundamentally the market didn’t need them anymore. They didn’t want to change.”

Some companies took up the challenge. Wood was the primary material there, but Mr. Martino began to create chairs, mostly of molded plastic, well designed but inexpensive. Others decided that competing against China on price was impossible. Instead, the aim would be quality and Italy’s uniqueness, something China could not match. Pietro Costantini, who runs a third-generation furniture company, said he began focusing not just on the upper end — he makes extra-large furniture for big Americans — but also on creating lines that would sell the Italian lifestyle itself. Customers are returning.

But entrepreneurs complain that they are alone. Politicians offered little help making Italy competitive, and this remains a major impediment to making their gains grow. Businesses want less bureaucracy, more flexible labor laws and large investments in infrastructure to make moving goods around easier.

“Now it’s time to change,” said Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the chairman of Fiat and the president of Ferrari and the influential business group Confindustria. “If not, why are we going down in every classification of competition in the country? The reason is that in the best of cases we are stopped.”

It is not clear that this “Made in Italy” strategy will be enough. Skeptics argue that foreign investment, research and development funds and money invested by venture capitalists remain too low, as does Italy’s competitiveness.
But the nation’s entrepreneurs are a bright spot in a landscape with few others. Some argue that the younger generation is another key, if not now then when those in power die. They are educated, they are well traveled and, as Beppe Grillo does when he is attracting his masses, they use the Internet.

Two center-left parties merged to produce the Democratic Party, aimed at overcoming the system’s crippling fragmentation. All sides finally agreed that a new electoral law must be redone to give more breathing room to the winner of the next elections — crucial for pushing through any major changes.

But understanding the problems is the smallest step. Many worry in the meantime that Italy may share the same fate as the Republic of Venice, based in what many say is the most beautiful of cities, but whose domination of trade with the Near East died with no culminating event. Napoleon’s conquest in 1797 only made it official. Now it is essentially an exquisite corpse, trampled over by millions of tourists. If Italy does not shed its comforts for change, many say, a similar fate awaits it: blocked by past greatness, with aging tourists the questionable source of life, the Florida of Europe.

“The malaise is: ‘I can see all that, but there is nothing I can do to change it,’” said Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Corriere della Sera. But, he said, “to change your ways means changing your individual ways: refusing certain compromises, to start paying your taxes, don’t ask for favors when you are looking for a job, not to cheat when your child is trying to reach admission to university.”

“That’s the tricky part,” he said. “We have reached a point where hoping for some kind of white knight coming in saying, ‘We’ll sort you out,’ is over.”

“We Italians have our destiny in our hands more than ever before,” he said.