Sean\’s Sicily

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Posts Tagged ‘Money

La Villa del Casale

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On the way back from Catania, Sonia and I decided to take a side-trip to Piazza Amerina, a small mountain village in the middle of nowhere, and a long way from any autostrada. I wasn’t entirely clear on the reasons for doing so except that I’d been complaining that all I’ve seen between Palermo and Catania was, in fact, autostrada 🙂 Sometimes when my mental translations have fallen behind and I subconciously skip a few sentances in order to catch up, which normally works fine when someone is banging on about the weather, football, etc. but sometimes (especially with Sonia) I miss crucial parts of the conversation or decisions and then have to ask “uh, why are we going to Piazza Amerina again?

So for all the misunderstood conversations I’ve had with you, Sorry, Sonia! 🙂

Anyway, in Piazza Amerina there is a Roman villa ‘La Villa del Casale’, a Unesco world heritage site with very famous mosaics. Actually not a villa in the proper sense (or at least not as I understand it) but more of an administration building with attached apartments for the local Tribune (or whatever the local boss was called in Roman times).

The entire experience is an excellent example of much that is wrong in Sicily, and how the little people either get screwed or get a great big chunk of pie, depending entirely on who they know and if the people they know are in political power or not.

In the case of la villa del Casale, the ones who are getting screwed are the tourists and the local vendors that one finds at tourist attractions all over the world. We found the stalls all closed up with signs saying “Closed by Court Injunction” and the vendors outside the entrance to the Villa, sheltering in the shade, peacefully protesting. The story, as Sonia found out, was that their stalls had been shut on public safety grounds, to open the road for heavy equipment that was going to be used to carry out some work on the villa. Some 3 months later, not a single piece of heavy equipment (we’re talking about big earthmovers, cranes etc) had come down the road, and the works that were being carried out were accessed from a different road across the valley. But still the local mayor (linked to Forza Italia) refused to allow the stalls to reopen.

The alleged actual reason (alluded to in typical Sicilian fashion) was that the local government had given permission for a new restuarant/shop to be built right on the doorstep of the villa complex, and once this was completed, the competiting vendors were shut down to force the tourists to dine at this one place, and to buy their touristy junk from this one place.

No-one wants to suggest that the owners of the new place has paid kickbacks or is linked to the local administration, of course. Oh no, I quite emphatically want to say that there are NO SUSPICIONS AT ALL that the mayor or those close to him have been paid off to nobble the competition. Right, got that? All clear? The vendors have been shut down for 3 months for public safety. Good…

Of course, that begs the question that if the vendors have been shut down for public safety – I remind you, to make way for great big dangerous earth-moving equipment which would probably crush Joe Public under their huge tires without noticing – why are the same endangered public forced to park their cars on that very same road and walk down it to the villa (but only after paying 1 euro to the Parcheggiatore for the privilege of parking their cars on a public road)?

Did I mention yet the Eur90million that the local administration got for improving the site? Basic things like running water, public toilets, a bit of paint for the rusting greenhouse-type thing that’s covering the villa? Which instead is being spent on a series of concerts and events? Again, I wish to make clear that there’s no suggestion at all that the money’s been used for these activities in order to facilitate kickbacks to the local administration, or that the people organising the events are linked to the local mayor in any way. It could be argued that a large series of small payments offers more scope for skimming than a small series of large payments, as well as directinng more work/jobs/contracts/money towards friends and family, but that’s just unjust paranoia, and I’m ashamed for even thinking it.

And so, despite the money, despite the steep Eur6 entrance fee, despite the bus-loads of tourists, the site still lacks running water, toilet facilities, or any kind of interpretive centre to explain the significance of the place. Sure, they’re a couple of sunburned posters, and the odd room has a leaflet, but really (and I’m an archaeology enthusiast) I came away with the impression “Some nice mosiacs…”

In case anyone thinks I’m being anti-Sicilian, Sonia’s take on the whole thing is here

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Written by seancasaidhe

August 29, 2007 at 10:27 pm

A new purchase – purchased!

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Allora, Sonia and I took a trip down to the Randazzo in Palermo city centre to have a look at cameras. Due to the usual terrible service (the display camera didn’t have a battery and the sales girl didn’t feel like getting one) we took ourselves to another Randazzo where a very helpful guy let me play with the D80. Unfortunately it was another Eur100 more expensive there than in the city centre, so to the city centre we returned and made our purchase.

The new sales girl tried to fob off an 18-70mm lens for a Eur70 discount, but thanks to Ken Rockwell’s excellent site I had already compared that lens with the 18-135mm and firmly turned her down. If she’d been offering a deal with an 18-55mm lens, then I’d be happy to save a few hundred euros, or if they offered the 18-200m VR lens, I would snapped it up for a few hundred more.

And so Sonia and I have spent a few pleasant days snapping shots of Palermo and each other. I think that having a dSLR will make me a lot sloppier and trigger happy. I’ll probably start taking less and less care about light, composition, etc. and just let the camera worry about exposure and f-stop – that’s the diff between paying Eur14 to have 24 shots developed, and being able to knock off 250 shots in an afternoon and pick the ones you like the best!

That said I’ve quickly figured out how to work the Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Program Auto modes. It’s been fun (sometimes) showing Sonia how to judge f-stops and shutter speeds, and being able to immediately contrast shot-A with shot-B on the LCD. Let’s hope we get a lot more fun out of it before the joy pales.

Written by seancasaidhe

August 9, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Sicily

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Water & Corruption

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Watched a program on TV the other night about the water situation in Gela. As I’d just written the previous post on water, it was pretty interesting! Basically the local petrochem works have polluted the water table to hazardous levels. The solution? The government trucks in water for free, like Galway.

Oh, no, wait, this is Sicily. The solution is that the cittidini have to buy their water from private suppliers – who happen to get their water from a non-polluted public supply! How fantastic is that? Not only have the State allowed a company to destroy the water supply for an entire city, they’ve allowed private companies (probably owned by, or paying off, the local officials, regional officials, and for fucking sure cosa nostra) to get a monopoly on drinking water.

Fantastic.

Written by seancasaidhe

July 27, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Cosa Nostra, Sicily

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Selling up in Marzamemi

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So after much too-ing and fro-ing, A’Mio’s nonna has decided to sell the old house in Marzamemi. Oh boy, if only I had the cash! As it’s only being used for a few weeks every year for the past decade or so, it needs a bit of work (actually in my opinion it needs to be redeveloped into apartments!) so she’s not going to get top-price for it. Still, better than the original plan which was to sell 1 floor of it. That would kill any value in the place at all.

So whoever buys it is gonna get a bargain. Hopefully there’s a bottom limit below which she won’t sell. Seriously, if someone wants to buy it for €150k, I can get that myself from the banks at home and buy it! Sure the season is only 3 months long, but the rent per apartment is like €700 per WEEK! So figure 4 or 6 apartments, full occupancy for 3 months (‘cos Marzamemi is packed in the Summer) and you’re talking about a bloody goldmine.

Oh well, I don’t have the money – some rich bastard is just gonna get richer.

Written by seancasaidhe

July 27, 2007 at 1:20 pm

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Water water everywhere…

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Marzememi is a popular spot in the summer! Over winter there’s about 200 people in the whole place, but come summer and it jammers! Apparently apartments are rented for €2,000 a month, but then again, the season is only 3 months long, so you have to take that into account.

Another problem is the lack of water. Even now there’s only mains water for a brief period in the morning and everyone rushes to pump as much water as possible into their tanks. Unfortunately by the time we got around to it this morning at 10:30 it was already to late. Fortunately there was enough in the tanks to keep us going.

Why isn’t there water? Well it seems to be one of those reasons that everyone knows but no-one talks about – certain parties have a vested interest in keeping the water supply intermittent and make bloody well sure that any plans to regularise the supply get shelved in committee-land.

Written by seancasaidhe

July 22, 2007 at 9:50 pm

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