Screwed in Cyprus

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my story on the crisis in Cyprus.

Ionna Constantinou, a 24-year-old lawyer in Nicosia, Cyprus, was up early on March 16, packing her bags for a weekend holiday in London. She turned on her laptop and logged on to Facebook (FB). “You see people screaming, posting links, and you say, ‘What’s happening?’ ” she recalls. The news—that the leaders of the tiny island nation in the eastern Mediterranean had agreed to raid deposits in the country’s banks as part of a bailout deal—instantly upended Constantinou’s plans. She and her boyfriend, a lawyer named Simos Angelides, immediately canceled their flights. They waited for the banks to reopen, to see whether their savings would still be there. And like all Cypriots, they wondered whether the financial system was about to collapse and take their country down with it. “It was like an atomic bomb that fell,” says Angelides, 35. “Now we’re just living in the radiation.”

In the early hours of March 25, after more than a week of wrangling between officials in Nicosia and Brussels, Cyprus reached a deal that may have prevented it from tumbling out of the euro. In exchange for a €10 billion ($12.8 billion) bailout from the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, the nation’s newly elected president, Nicos Anastasiades, agreed to shutter the second-largest bank, Cyprus Popular Bank, largely wiping out deposits above the insured limit of €100,000. Depositors in the country’s biggest bank, Bank of Cyprus (BOC:GA), could lose as much as 40 percent of their uninsured savings.

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As Cardinals Choose a New Pope, Romans Hope for a Spike in Business

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my story on the papal conclave’s hoped for business boom.

In 2005, during the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the cobblestone streets near St. Peter’s Basilica flowed with the faithful. They had come to pay their respects to a charismatic pontiff who had defined the papacy for a generation. But they also needed to eat. “We were working 24 hours a day, making pizzas as fast as we could,” says Andrea Marotta, 23, who along with his father sells pizzas for €5 ($6.55) each at Pizza Panini San Pietro, a small storefront near the Vatican.

Today, the papacy is vacant once again. At the end of February, Pope Benedict XVI, who as a cardinal picked up parmesan and Coca-Cola (KO) at Marotta’s store, resigned, citing health reasons. The 115 cardinals who will choose the next pope have arrived. But not the masses. The last big event at the Vatican, the beatification of John Paul II in 2011, brought in an estimated €190 million in revenue for the city’s hotels and restaurants, another €30 million for public services such as the bus and the subway, and €15 million for its retail outlets, according to a study by the Monza and Brianza Chamber of Commerce.

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Francis’ New Papal Style: A Comparison with Benedict

My comparison of the new pope with the old has just been published by Time.

Pope Francis began his address during the March 19 ceremony marking his installation to the papacy as he has nearly every other public speech since his election just under a week ago: with a passing reference to his predecessor Benedict XVI. “We are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude,” said Francis. But even if hadn’t, the comparisons would be inevitable. At 76, Francis walks with a limp and needs help navigating the stairs outside St. Peter’s Basilica. But his presence at the pulpit projects far more strength than what the 85-year-old theologian who came before him was able to muster.

In February, Benedict became the first Pontiff in 600 years to resign from the papacy, ending a pontificate under which the Vatican was rocked by scandal and internal divisions. Francis, by contrast, in his every public word and repeated gestures of humility seems to offer the promise of renewal of the Church’s badly damaged image. “One of the great hopes that everyone has is that this will be the Pope who will get people to like the church again,” says Alexander Lucie-Smith, a parish priest in the U.K. and a writer for the Catholic Herald. “If he can change the mood music, that will be an incredibly important achievement.”

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The Joker’s Wild

My profile of Beppe Grillo has just been published by Time.

The comedian Beppe Grillo, the leader of the party that won the most votes in Italy’s February election, sits in his beachfront villa in Tuscany as Italian journalists crowd outside, desperate for a sound bite. “They film me while I eat, while I fart,” says Grillo, with characteristic vulgarity. “They point their cameras at me 24 hours a day. If I need to pick my nose, I first need to go hide.”

Nobody, least of all Grillo, expected his Five Star Movement to do so well. Campaigning on a radical platform, the 64-year-old satirist led what he dubbed a Tsunami Tour, visiting 76 towns in 45 days to urge Italians to vote for a slate of candidates who had never before held office. He triggered, if not a tsunami, then a sizable wave. Almost 26% of the vote flowed to M5S, as the party is widely known on social media, giving

its wild-haired, foulmouthed founder significant influence over the fate of the euro zone’s third largest economy. “This thing here, it’s like a virus,” Grillo says of his movement.

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New Pope Shows Eye for Symbolism

My piece on Pope Francis’s media savvy has just been published by Time.

As a Cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio didn’t always have the smoothest relations with the press. Said to be shy, he gave few interviews, preferring to address his congregation directly. Journalists in his native Argentina accused him of silent complicity during the country’s so-called Dirty War — charges he denounces as “slander.” In an interview with La Stampa’s Vatican Insider shortly before his election to the papacy, Bergoglio bemoaned the media’s focus on negativity and scandal. “Journalists sometimes risk becoming ill from coprophilia,” he said then. Yet when he addressed a group of several thousand journalists and their families on Saturday as Pope Francis, he opened with the words, “My dear friends.”

Seated on a chair on stage in an audience hall next to St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope was greeted by the assembled journalists with applause and a few cries of “Viva.” Whether performing mass or giving an address, Francis’ speaking style is more like that of an actor than a preacher: his tone is intimate, with touches of humor and folksiness, but he never loses command of his audience. In his delivery, if there’s a politician he resembles, it’s Ronald Reagan. During one passage in his address thanking the media for their “service” covering the conclave, Francis broke from the text, looked up and said with a smile: “You’ve worked, eh? You’ve really worked.”

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My piece on Fendi’s efforts to save the Trevi fountain has just been published by Time.

When Rome’s 18th century artists put the final touches on the city’s famous Trevi Fountain, they capped the Baroque monument with a dedication from the Renaissance-era Popes who commissioned it. The fountain, immortalized in the film La Dolce Vita, is about to undergo a $2.9 million renovation, but this time, the sponsor isn’t a Pope, an Emperor or even the Italian government. It’s the luxury-fashion firm Fendi. “This is a gesture to give back to the city that did so much for us,” says Fendi CEO Pietro Beccari.

As Italy stumbles through political and financial crises, it is struggling to preserve its historical treasures. Since 2010, funding for archaeological maintenance has been slashed by 20%. Increasingly, help is pouring in from the nation’s high-fashion firms, including Fendi, Tod’s, Gucci and Prada. (See sidebar.) All these firms built their fortunes with the aid of Italy’s reputation for beauty, elegance and craftsmanship. The upkeep of that reputation–which means the upkeep of the nation’s priceless works of art and architecture–just seems like good brand management. “These companies see themselves as linked to the country’s heritage,” says Darius Arya of the American Institute for Roman Culture.

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Italy’s Beppe Grillo: Meet the Rogue Comedian Turned Kingmaker

My interview with Italy’s Beppe Grillo has just been published by Time.

Before sitting down to an interview with TIME, Beppe Grillo, the comedian who has upended Italian politics, stops to give his wife a goodbye kiss. “Ciao,” she tells him. “For goodness sake. Don’t create too much chaos.” When Italy’s elections resulted in a hung Parliament, with no party pulling in enough support to form a government, Grillo came out as the biggest winner. His Five Star Movement fielded a group of political novices on a platform of political renovation and took 8.7 million votes, more than any other party. But while his opponents have scrambled to try to build governing coalitions, Grillo, who didn’t stand for office himself, has refused to bargain with the old guard he considers the root of Italy’s problems. From his house on the Tuscan seashore, Grillo rails against his country’s political parties, marvels about the Internet and jokes about the papacy.

To what do you credit your success?
It’s the Internet. The Internet creates transparency, creates a change of mentality, brings people together. The Pope resigned, partly because of his health, but also because he started tweeting … The sheep wanted to talk with the shepherd. Centuries of tradition crumbled there. He understood it was no longer possible to continue.

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