Starbucks Faces Struggle to Take on Italian Coffee Traditions

My piece on the rhythms and traditions of Italy’s coffee culture has just been published at Time.

Like the tides of the sea, an Italiancaffé – or bar – has its recognizable rhythms. There’s a rush of office workers at the start of the day, crowding three or four deep at the counter for a quick espresso before their shift begins. And then, just before 10 a.m., another wave: shopkeepers on their way to work.

Davide Casali, 43, a barista at Caffè San Silvestro in downtown Rome, has the timing down to the minute. The busiest time, he says, is right after lunch; it runs from about 1:30 to 2:50 p.m., giving the last of his customers ten minutes to get back to their desks. “Of course, in the summer it’s totally different,” he says. “That’s when everybody’s at the beach.”

Read the rest.

Online Life of American Murdered in Italy Spurs Theories About Her Death

My piece on murder in the age of social media has just been published by Time.

The aftermath of Ashley Olsen’s death is an example of how, in the age of social media, the private can suddenly turn very public.

The 35-year-old American woman’s body was discovered on Saturday, after her boyfriend persuaded her landlady to let him into her apartment in central Florence, Italy. By the next day, after the Italian press had broken the story, strangers had taken to Olsen’s Instagram page not just to post their condolences but also to search for clues and post theories about how she was killed.

“I never knew her but she looked like a sweet and beautiful person!!” wrote one commenter, while others engaged in extended back-and-forths on who might be responsible for her death: “This is the act of an enraged obsessed boyfriend who was just broken up with! Case solved!”

Read the rest.

Matteo Renzi: ‘Italy Will Never Be a Normal Country’

Time has also published my Q&A with Matteo Renzi.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke to TIME on April 24 in his first interview with a non-Italian news organization since becoming premier in February. The conversation touched on a wide range of topics, from his plans to reform the Italian political system to his desire for a United States of Europe

I’ve been reading your interviews and speeches, and I’ve seen many phrases like “In a normal country, this wouldn’t happen.” In what way is Italy not a normal country?

Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice. There is in the DNA of the Italians a bit of madness, which in the overwhelming majority of cases is positive. It is genius. It is talent. It’s the masterpieces of art. It’s the food, fashion, everything that makes Italy great in the world.

But then, we’re not a normal country because we have a complicated bureaucracy, a political system that’s appalling. We have twice as many parliamentarians as the United States. We pay some presidents of [administrative] regions more than the United States pays its president. We would like to make Italy a normal country from the point of view of the political system.

Where did Italy go wrong?

Read the rest.

The Italian Job

My profile of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is in this week’s Time Magazine.

Less than a month after Matteo Renzi was sworn in on Feb. 22 as Italy’s Prime Minister—at 39, he is the youngest in the country’s history—he traveled to Berlin to meet his most formidable European partner, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Italy’s creaking economy was at the top of the agenda. Burdened with record levels of debt—only Greece has a bigger load in the euro zone—the country is struggling to recover from its longest postwar recession. Aware of Merkel’s belief in strict budgetary discipline, Renzi was at pains to reassure her that his plans to revive the Italian economy would not involve a splurge in spending. In a toast at a dinner with the German leader, he said he would follow the example of the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, who, when he began working on his statue of David, took a block of marble and chipped away “whatever was in excess.”

The moment was classic Renzi: bold, inspiring, elegantly expressed—but short on specifics. “That’s how I see Italy,” he tells Time, in his first interview with a non-Italian news organization since becoming Premier. “If we cut away all the things that are in excess, bureaucratically, fiscally, something will come out that’s more beautiful than the David,” he says, lounging across one of the yellow armchairs in his palatial office in central Rome.

“More beautiful than the David, let’s not exaggerate,” he adds, catching himself. “As beautiful as the David.”

Read the rest.

Why Berlusconi Will Rise Again

My piece on why it’s too early to count out Silvio Berlusconi has just been published by Time.

The Sunday after Prime Minister Enrico Letta survived an Oct. 2 attempt by Silvio Berlusconi to bring down his government, Letta went on television to declare victory. “I think a political season has been closed,” he said, referring to the country’s nearly 20 years of political domination by the sex-scandal-plagued former Prime Minister. “The page has been securely turned.”

Letta is not the first leader to prematurely declare mission accomplished. The Prime Minister has fractured Berlusconi’s political party, forced him into humiliating surrender on national television, and all but ensured that later this month he will be booted from the Senate, a punishment for the one-year sentence for tax fraud Berlusconi received in August. But it’s far too early to declare him politically dead and gone. Whatever his faults, Berlusconi’s recurring political success reflects an enduring failure of Italian politics: its inability to deliver durable results. And on that front, there’s little reason to believe anything has changed.

Read the rest.

Italy’s Berlusconi Is Forced to Back Down in Parliament—Will He Now Bow Out?

My piece on Berlusconi’s defeat in the Italian senate has just been published by Time.

On the surface, Italy‘s day ended as it began—with the country’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta in an uneasy, unstable alliance with the media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. In a last minute speech in the Italian senate on Oct. 2, Berlusconi, the sex scandal-plagued former prime minister, declared he would support the government in a vote of confidence, bringing to an end a political crisis he had been instrumental in creating. “We have decided, not without inner turmoil, to vote in confidence of the government,” said Berlusconi. The final vote in the senate was 235 to 70 in favor of the government.

But the hours leading up to the vote had revealed deep fissures in Berlusconi’s once dominant People of Liberty party. On Oct. 1, several of his supporters—including his political heir Angelo Alfano—had openly broken with Berlusconi, declaring they would go against his wishes and vote in favor of the government. Last week, nearly all the senators in his party had threatened to resign if the senate stripped Berlusconi of his seat, a requirement following the one-year sentence for tax fraud handed out to Berlusconi in August. On the morning of the vote, 25 members of his party declared they would defect, forming an independent parliamentary group, and support Letta, almost certainly providing the current prime minister with the votes he need to survive.

Read the rest.

Berlusconi Rattles the Cage Again

My piece on the Italian government crisis has just been published by Time.

The news broke as Italians were sitting down for their Saturday dinner: Silvio Berlusconi, the scandal-plagued media mogul, had ordered the ministers from his party to withdraw from Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government, effectively causing it collapse after five months of shaky coalition rule.

The news didn’t come as a complete surprise. The government — born from compromise after a hung parliament exhausted all other possibilities — has been unstable and ineffective since its formation. It came under further stress in August, when Italy’s supreme court confirmed a lower court’s decision to slap Berlusconi with a one-year sentence for tax fraud and a ban on holding political office for a yet-to-be determined period.

Read the rest.

Judges Reject Silvio Berlusconi’s Appeal, but His Political Appeal Endures

My piece on Silvio Berlusconi’s first definitive conviction has just been published by Time.

For the first time, after more than two decades of high-profile judicial battles, Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been definitively convicted of a crime. After seven hours of deliberation Thursday, the judges in Italy’s highest court emerged from their chamber to reject his final appeal on charges of tax fraud — and therefore confirming a one-year prison sentence, while sending back for a review a five-year ban from public office. He was originally sentenced last October.

Berlusconi was accused, along with three others, of using offshore companies to purchase the rights to American movies, reselling them to his media empire at markup in order to pay lower taxes. The sentence is a blow for the 76-year-old billionaire, but Berlusconi has made a career of proving the writers of his political obituaries wrong. Because of his age and the nature of his crime, Berlusconi is unlikely to see the inside of a prison cell. He will serve his sentence — originally for four years but commuted to one — either under house arrest or performing community service. While the ban on public office is under review, a process that could take months, the conservative politico will be able to keep his position as Senator and de facto head of his political party. “Politically, he’s still very much alive,” says Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist at Rome’s John Cabot University. “This will weaken him, but he can continue to be a leader, a symbol for the right.”

Read the rest.

It’s Not What the Pope Said About Gays, It’s How He Said It

My piece on the Pope and homosexuals has just been published by Time.

At first glance, Pope Francis’ statement on homosexuality, delivered today in an impromptu press conference aboard the papal plane, seemed to indicate a remarkable break with church tradition. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told journalists, as he flew from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. “The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … They’re our brothers.”

The Pope’s words were warmly received by gay activists in Italy and elsewhere. “From now on, when I hear a bishop or a priest say something against me, I’m going to say, ‘Who are you to judge,’” says Franco Grillini, president of Gaynet Italia, the association of gay journalists in Italy.

Read the rest.

Rome’s Graffiti Boom: Eternal City Finally Welcomes Street Art

My piece on Rome’s street art renaissance has just been published by Time.

Say the words “Roman art,” and your average listener will likely think of classical statues, ornate churches and the masterworks of Michelangelo, Caravaggio and their contemporaries. But to a select, but growing, few, that phrase summons something more contemporary: a growing body of street and graffiti art that has recently blossomed across the Eternal City.

The explosion has been sudden and noticeable, especially in the Ostiense neighborhood just outside the Aurelian Walls, where local support has transformed the former industrial area into a haven for muralists and poster artists. “When we were putting up the first works, they were looking at us like we were crazy,” says Francesco Dobrovich, project manger at NUfactory, a creative agency that has served as a broker between artists, local authorities and building owners. The boom has been fueled, at least in part, by the yearly Outdoor Festival, organized by NUfactory. Dedicated to street art, it attracts artists from across the continent. On the neighborhood’s major arterial the young Spanish artist Borondo has covered a gay cultural center with figures that seem to rise out of the neighborhood’s characteristic grime. On a side street, the windows of an apartment building have been painted into eerily empty eyes by the Bolognese artist Blu. On a wall outside a disco, the two-man RO.BO.COOP has pasted a remix of Sandro Bottocelli’s “Allegory of Spring,” in which all the figures in the Renaissance masterpiece are wearing surgical masks.

Read the rest.