A Goat in George Clooney’s Garden…a lighthearted look at Italian law

Villa Oleandra, a large mansion on the shores of Lake Como in Lombardy, currently belongs to George Clooney. I have walked past the luxury home several times this summer on one of the hiking trails between Moltrasio and the pretty village of Laglio. images-7The Hollywood actor has bought not only the lakefront property but also the house and land across the road behind. He has built a bridge and covered walkway between the two. There are curtains at all the windows to prevent gawking passersby such as myself catching a glimpse of the famous resident. But if I can’t see him then he probably can’t see me. This will certainly work in my favour. It means he is unlikely to be watching when I deliver my goat to his garden. Yes, that’s right. I am going to deliver a goat to George Clooney’s garden. A goat I hear you ask? A goat in George Clooney’s garden? Don’t panic. I haven’t imbibed too much of that divine Italian chianti I am so fond of. I merely think it is the best way to ensure that I become the new owner of Villa Oleandra in ten year’s time. Allow me to explain. If a goat belonging to you eats the grass on a property belonging to someone else for ten years, then the property automatically becomes yours. George’s garden looks fairly substantial and I am told that he spends a lot of time away from home, so I am confident of finding a nice, grassy corner where my goat will go undiscovered for a decade. It is clearly the quickest, least complicated way for me to become a property owner. I know. It’s a very silly scenario. But it’s also a very silly law.

Carnival-4From goats to goldfish. In 2005 the municipal council of Rome passed an exceptionally well considered law stating that it was illegal for fish to be kept in private homes in conical bowls. Apparently round bowls cause fish to go blind. The law stated that rectangular shaped full-sized aquariums must be purchased by all fish owners. The Roman council began patting themselves on the back for preventing cruelty to fish. “It’s the kind of thing a civilized society is judged on,” one local politician was quoted as saying. The local council indeed had so much faith in the city’s residents that they could never have anticipated what happened next. Most fish owners in the capital refused to purchase new homes for their beloved fishy friends and many of Rome’s aquatic pets met with a ‘flushing’ end. Not necessarily a better option than life going blind in a round bowl I wouldn’t have thought.  I also can’t help thinking that local law enforcement must have been pretty chuffed at the amount of faith people had in their ability to uphold this law, which also stated, out of necessity one assumes, that it was no longer permissible to offer your fish as a prize at a fairground or circus.

Some of Rome’s luckier fish were simply relocated. This is not a novel idea. Every year hundreds of Italian fish end up taking a summer vacation of their own in the fountains of local towns, villages and major cities. The fish lovers among you must be ready to throw your arms up in horror and start protesting. But I think it is worth taking the time to look at this from the perspective of the fish themselves. After months, maybe years of swimming around in a tiny bowl without company or any source of formal entertainment, (and going blind into the bargain), images-5you are suddenly delivered for four weeks break at, for example, the Trevi Fountain. For those of you who don’t know the Trevi Fountain I can tell you it’s a pretty impressive place. I imagine that in terms of accommodation for fish it might rate five stars. You get a large swimming pool, lots of goldfish friends to mingle with and the added bonus of hundreds of tourists throwing money at you all day. Sounds good to me.  If you are a really fortunate fish your owners might even forget to pick you up at the end of the holiday and you can spend the rest of your life living in luxury with twenty twenty vision. The chances are good. Apparently it happens all the time.

If you feel are feeling a bit depressed after flushing your fish down the toilet then think about travelling to Milan and cheering yourself up there. The city seems an obvious choice perhaps, what with being the fashion capital and offering shopping, culture and food to rival any in Europe. But in fact you will be required to smile when you are there because a local law says it is illegal not to. Council has, very considerately, exempted people at funerals and those visiting hospitals.

If however your murderous guilt really gets to you and you are considering doing away with yourself, for goodness sake don’t do it in Falciano del Massico. Since March 2012 it has been illegal to die in the village fifty kilometres from Naples. The mayor issued the decree because the town has no cemetery and the death of it’s citizens was creating “a logistical problem.” images-2The next village has a cemetery but because of a feud between the two towns it is not available for the use of the people of Falciano. Recent reports in the press state that the law has been generally well received by locals in theory but that in principle “two residents disobeyed this week alone.” If you can’t avoid dying there at least make sure your friends know that your coffin must be made out of nutshells. If any other material is used they will face a hefty fine.

The list of illegal activities in Italy is quite lengthy. It’s illegal to wear wooden clogs in Capri, illegal to have a picnic on the steps of a church in Florence, illegal not to walk your dog three times a day in Turin and illegal to open a kebab shop in Lucca. In Eraclea it is illegal to build sandcastles and in Lerici it is illegal to hang a towel out of the window to dry. In Eboli it is forbidden to kiss and have sex in a moving car. man-pigeon-feedingIn Rome’s historical centre you may not sing, eat or drink in groups of more than three. Don’t think about feeding pigeons unless you have deep pockets; in Bergamo the fine is three hundred and thirty three Euros and in Venice a whopping five hundred. Painting your gondola in any colour other than black will incur a fine of a similar amount as will feeding a cat that does not belong to you in Cesena. Being naked near any public fountain is even more costly, so if you chose to dispose of your fish in the Trevi I hope you were fully clothed at the time.

All over the country it is illegal for a man to wear a skirt, illegal to tell a man in public that he “has no balls” lest it damage his reputation, illegal to attach a padlock to a public statue or building, illegal to serve cocktails containing eggs, and, my favourite, illegal for a man to touch his genitals in public. I guess I don’t have to point out that some laws are more successful than others.

You may be starting to wonder how on earth one has any fun in Italy. That’s easy. You grow marijuana and go out and pinch girls’ bottoms. Pardon me? Yes, go on, it’s just a bit of harmless fun. The Italian High Court says you can do both. But only if the marijuana is grown in small amounts and the girl has given you permission first. Oh, and I nearly forgot. Don’t forget to buy a few goats.








A Post on the Post…(and why you haven’t had a card from Italy lately.)

images-2Ever felt like you wanted to kill someone? I mean, like, really strangle them. Out of sheer frustration. Ever felt like screaming? Giving vent to your inner two year old? No? Obviously you have never been to an Italian post office. Going to an Italian post office is an activity only the truly sadistic, highly motivated and time-rich person should undertake. Be warned. It is not actually an easy thing to do. Oh no, no, no. Why? Because the Italian post office is most often closed. Closed for siesta. Closed on Sundays. And Mondays. Closed at Easter and Christmas. Closed in the summer. Closed in the winter. Closed for Saints’ days. Closed for employees’ birthdays. Closed for all kinds of holidays no one else in the world has ever heard of. And my personal favourite…’closed because our fire hydrant is leaking.’ I actually saw that written on the post office door in Bologna. At first I thought I had lost something in the translation. But no. Closed. Closed. Closed. Finding an Italian post office that is actually open when you need it to be is therefore an exhilarating feeling, akin, I imagine, to buying a lottery ticket and discovering you have just won a million euros. There is about as much chance of one as the other.

The thing is that when you find a post office that is miraculously open your problems have only just begun. You now have to go inside and conduct your business. I use the term ‘business’ very loosely. First decide what it is that you require. Then take a number.  You will, of course, inevitably take the incorrect number and spend the next five hours waiting in the wrong queue. When your turn finally comes an employee will actually smile at you (probably with secret delight) whilst they inform you to take another number and stand for another five hours in a different queue. No, they cannot possibly help you. With anything. When you have taken the correct number you may be lucky enough to secure one of the five plastic chairs made available to the five hundred people waiting to be served.

My time does however eventually arrive. On the day in question I have have come for postcard stamps. I know. No one except me actually writes postcards. I assure you that after today I won’t bother anymore either. “Six stamps for postcards please,” I say. “For Australia.” Post office staff love to talk.  With each other I mean. “Australia!” the man exclaims to his colleague behind the desk. “My cousin went to Australia in 1976. Melbourne I think it was. He took the whole family to live there. He owns a restaurant.” UnknownHe asks the colleague if she has ever been to Australia. “Noooo,” she says, “it’s much too far away. And they have a lot of dangerous things in Australia: sharks, spiders, Crocodile Dundee.” She jokes that she is safer staying in Italy. This is all most informative I think. “But my stamps,” I prompt helpfully. The man isn’t finished. “But you have kangaroos down there too don’t you? They aren’t dangerous.” And just in case I need some clarification on what kangaroos actually do he does a little bouncy/hoppy action up and down on his chair. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry and wonder if in fact I am part of a candid camera episode for Italian television. “Do you really eat them?” he continues. “Ooooh, I could never eat a kangaroo,” puts in the colleague. When I finally get a word in I tell them both “Yes, we really eat them. And very tasty they are too.”

Suddenly the man gets up and disappears through a door out the back. I entertain a vague hope that stamps will materialise with his return. But he is gone so long I wonder if he has in fact gone home for the day. Or maybe he is so traumatised by the thought of eating a kangaroo that he is having a calming cigarette in the back alley. Or, perhaps having remembered he has a cousin in Melbourne who owns a restaurant, he has decided to make a long distance telephone call and suggest he puts kangaroo on the menu. The possibilities are endless and I have plenty of time to think about them all. Eventually he returns with, miracle of miracles the stamps, but without an explanation as to his long absence. He arranges my cards on the desk in front of him in a neat pattern and studies them carefully, as if he is pondering his next move in an all important chess game. Except that would have been quicker. Suddenly he loses concentration again and addresses the group of people behind me. “She’s from Australia you know!” They all smile at me and nod their heads and I wonder if any of them are going to start hopping up and down to demonstrate their full comprehension. Thankfully I am spared. “My stamps?” I ask again perhaps more forcefully than I should have. “Signora. You will get your stamps but please do not raise your voice at me.” Contrite, I tell him my voice is not raised; that I just have good projection. “I’m an opera singer,” I say by way of unnecessary explanation. He gives me a long look. Clearly he thinks I am more of a comedian than an opera singer. He finally takes one of the large stamps and tries to place it horizontally in the upper right hand corner of the card. Not satisfied he then tries it vertically. Then diagonally. “Sorry Signora,” he says, “the stamps are too big for your cards and I cannot help you.”

tzun414l.jpgI am desperate. “Haven’t you got any smaller stamps?” I beg. “No Signora. These are the only stamps for Australia.” Incredibly he then hands me back the six postcards. I am surprised I manage to say “thanks very much,” but not surprised I add “for nothing” under my breath. I accompany these words with one of those forced smiles where your teeth grind together at the back and your jaw aches from the tension. As I turn to throw the bloody cards in the waste paper basket under the counter he has the last word. “Signora Kangaroo,” he says and winks at me. “Next time it might be quicker to send an e-mail!”


Observations from a sunlounge…an irreverant take on the Italian Beach…

IMG_8797 Only bikinis shall be worn. The one piece does not exist. The bigger the woman the smaller the bikini should be…preferably the G-string variety.

The “small bathers principal” also applies to men. Your beer gut should completely obscure your swimming costume so that when you face someone front on it actually appears as if you are totally naked (in Australia we call this the ‘verandah over the tool shed syndrome.’) My European friends are welcome to ask me to define both ‘verandah’ and ‘toolshed’…preferably over a drink.

Men should either shave their entire bodies or look like chimpanzees. No middle ground acceptable.

It is compulsory for all men to totally ignore their wives, girlfriends and mistresses to stare blatantly at women exiting and entering the water and say in an exaggerated undertone “mamma mia, mio dio, che bella!” You do this automatically regardless of whether the subject is bella or not. Because we can’t see your toolshed (it’s obscured by your verandah), we will thankfully never know if you are genuine or not. PS…don’t worry, you will be forgiven for this behaviour. We know you are religious because your medallion, when not obscured by a forest of chest hair, is brighter and more dazzling than the sun.

Children should run around all day in the extreme summer heat without a hat, protective clothing or sunscreen. In fact naked is best. The ‘slip, slop, slap’ campaign has not reached Southern Italy (in any case slipping, slopping and slapping would make you look unattractive and that is unacceptable). Skin cancer doesn’t exist in the Northern Hemisphere anyway.

When a child needs to wee pick them up and encourage them to piddle into the moat of their sandcastle or into their plastic bucket. Convenience is best. In fact, if your child’s sandcastle or bucket is not available then encourage them to piddle in/on someone else’s. I mean, if you move away from your chosen spot someone might come and steal it…or a sudden move (admittedly quite difficult in high heels) might cause your suntan to become uneven…and that is sooooo uncool.

Beach buskers…ummmm…if you are going to serenade a woman on her sun-lounge with the most appalling, excruciating and terrible rendition of ‘O Sole Mio’ (with guitar accompaniment), you may want to check first that she is not an opera singer. But thanks all the same for the entertainment. You were so very, very bad that I almost enjoyed your performance. Note to self; if I sing really, really badly in the future will I get paid more because people feel sorry for me??!!

Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare

If you are a non Italian speaker the most important phrase you can learn is “NO, I don’t want to buy a sarong.” If you are really studious you could expand this phrase to “NO, I don’t want to buy a sarong in black, a bracelet, a sarong in green, an umbrella, a sarong in purple, a dog that can say ‘ti amo’ while it’s ears flap up and down, a blue sarong, a yellow submarine, a sarong in any f’ing colour.” The really clever should learn all the above in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Russian and Urdu…because the salesman’s linguistic abilities know no limits. Better still, forget the above and pretend you are deaf and blind, thereby avoiding a raised blood pressure on vacation. And try not to constantly think what a pity it is that no one is trying to sell you a nice, cold bottle of pinot grigio!

The smaller and rockier the beach the more money it will cost to spend the day there. Foreigners will be charged more on principal. The man who rents the sun beds will randomly decide a price based on the size of your bikini.

The ocean is not for swimming. It is in fact for standing in chatting on your i-phone or in large family groups in your designer sunglasses, preferably whilst eating focaccia or pizza.

Water sports are forbidden. Bats, balls and frisbees ruffle the mirror-like surface of the water causing you to momentarily lose sight of your reflection.

And finally, it is acceptable to laugh at the foreign girl from Australia when she jumps out of the water every time a piece of seaweed floats by and says, “Shit. Sorry. I thought that was a shark!”



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