Spumante vs. Champagne: Battle of the Bubblies

My piece on Italian sparkling wines is up at Time.

When you pop a cork this holiday season, there’s a good chance that the bubbles in your glass won’t be French. Hard times, it turns out, can sometimes be good times — especially if you’re a producer of Italian sparkling wine, or spumante. While the recession has taken some of the fizz out of France’s champagne industry, in Italy, the bottles of bubbly have been flying off the shelves.

According to the Italian farmers’ association Coldiretti, exports of spumante jumped 22% in the first half of 2010 — much of that thanks to demand from the U.S. — following a year in which Italian growers outproduced the French region of Champagne for the first time. Even as winemakers in France cut their number of bottles by 44% in 2009 in the face of slumping sales, exports from Italy surpassed domestic consumption.

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Who Are The Anarchists Behind the Rome Embassy Bombs?

My story on the Christmas Eve embassy bombings in Italy has just been published by Time.

The Italian anarchists who have claimed responsibility for the letter bombs that exploded in the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome Thursday want to make it clear that they consider themselves part of something bigger. “We’ve decided to make our voice heard once again, with words and with deeds,” read a note written in Italian found in the remains of a crude bomb that exploded in the Chilean embassy. “We will destroy the system of domination.”

The note was signed by the Informal Federation of Anarchy, a loose union of Italian anarchist groups that authorities say is the largest such organization in the country. It said the bombs were the work of the organization’s “Lambros Founas Cell,” named after a Greek anarchist killed in a shootout with police in March, and expressed solidarity with other anarchist groups in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Greece.

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Berlusconi Survives, but Italian Rage Builds

My piece on the riots in Rome has just been published by Time.

In Italy, it’s time to pick up the pieces. Even as shopkeepers in Rome were rolling up their shutters after fierce riots engulfed much of the historic center on Tuesday, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was reaching out to centrist parliamentarians, hoping to bolster the thin majority with which he had barely survived a vote of no confidence earlier on the same day.

The final votes had yet to be counted when Berlusconi crossed the floor of Parliament to exchange jokes and pats on the shoulder with Pier Ferdinando Casini, the silver-haired leader of the Union of the Center, a coalition of Christian Democrats that has joined the opposition in defying the Prime Minister. After a tense parliamentary session in which the Premier’s opponents accused him of vote buying and clinging to power for personal gain, Berlusconi emerged bloodied but victorious, with 314 votes to his opponents’ 311.

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After the Confidence Vote, What’s Next for Berlusconi?

My piece on Berlusconi’s future has just been published by Time.

Only two things are clear about the vote of confidence faced by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday. One is that it will be a photo-finish, with the outcome unpredictable until the final count. The other is that the premier will end the day a weakened man.

Even the best-case scenario leaves Berlusconi, who once enjoyed the largest majority in Italian history, clinging to his coalition by a handful of votes, with his government at risk of collapse with every major decision. Other possibilities could see the extroverted media tycoon relegated to a supporting role in a technical government, or out of power completely, politically staggered ahead of a fresh round of elections most likely in the spring, and dangerously exposed to prosecution for tax fraud and corruption. “He’s wounded,” says Giuliano Ferrara, editor of daily Il Foglio newspaper and a friend and occasional advisor to the prime minister. “Berlusconi’s situation is a difficult one.”

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Amanda Knox’s Appeal: A Friendlier Venue This Time?

My piece on Amanda Knox’s appeal has just been published by Time.

The biggest factor in the appeal trial of Amanda Knox, the American college student convicted last year of killing her British roommate Meredith Kercher, is unlikely to be the disclosure of dramatic new evidence.

When lawyers for Knox and her Italian co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito lay out their reasons for appeal on Saturday, they’re expected to concentrate on well-worn technical objections to the way the DNA evidence was gathered, in particular the kitchen knife alleged to be the murder weapon and a bra clasp picked up in a sweep some six weeks after Kercher was found stabbed to death in the apartment she shared with Knox in the Italian city of Perugia in 2007. “What we’re primarily asking for is a new examination of the procedures,” Knox’s lawyer, Luciano Girgha, told TIME. Speaking earlier to reporters after a 15-minute procedural session in November, “The game,” he had said, “is starting over.”

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What Torino Can Teach Cleveland

Time has just published my story on Turin’s post-industrial transformation.

The closure of Torino’s Lingotto assembly plant in 1982 was a body blow for the Italian car capital. The Fiat automobile factory, inaugurated in 1923, was once the largest in Europe. Assembly lines carried cars up five levels and delivered them fully formed onto the roof, where they’d whip around an oval test track before spiraling down the building’s ramps and heading to showrooms. The shutdown marked the end of an era. That decade, Torino would lose more than 100,000 jobs, a trend that would continue through the rest of the century as the city’s industrial dominance slowly bled away.

Today the Lingotto plant stands once again as the symbol of the city. Only now the old factory serves as a testimonial that there can be life after the auto industry. Redesigned in the 1990s by Italian architect Renzo Piano, it forms the hub of a revitalized commercial district. The assembly floors, far from silenced, host a shopping mall, a multiplex, two hotels and an art gallery, and on the roof are a rooftop meeting room, a panoramic restaurant and a helicopter landing pad. The test track remains, now at the disposal of hotel guests looking for a jog high above the city streets.

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