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Stefano Lorusso

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Rosarno, a Senegalese immigrant picking oranges in Calabria in February

COVID-19 And Closed Borders: Italy's Agriculture At Risk

In the country hit hardest by coronavirus, a shortage of seasonal workers who couldn't cross the border has set of a spiral of trouble for farmers across Italy.

VERONA — Andrea Fasoli can't harvest his produce. From his fields in the province of Verona, the small-farm owner is sounding alarm bells about the agricultural sector, which is being hit extra hard by the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic, which has killed more people in Italy than any other country, is also keeping people shuttered inside, closing borders and preventing virtually any movement. Seasonal workers who come regularly to Italy, especially from Eastern Europe, have stayed at home, leaving Italian farms without sufficient manpower.​

Fasoli cultivates the white asparagus of Mambrotta, a prized output from his land. Due to its special characteristics, the vegetable must be harvested by hand with a particular knife, which requires the constant work of multiple farm hands. "Every year, I hire 25 agricultural workers, all from Romania. They come here for the harvest period, from March until the end of May. This year there are only five of them, who arrived before the borders were closed."

The consequence is ripe asparagus without the workforce to harvest them. "Today, my family, the few workers who are here and I are doing what we can. But I don't know for how long we can carry on. We'll probably be forced to let the products rot in the fields."

A sign of what's to come.

Throughout Italy, many farmers are facing the same dilemma as Fasoli. This year, about 370,000 workers — mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland – will be missing, according to Coldiretti, the country's largest famers association.

"We're a sign of what's to come, because we're already harvesting," notes the Veronese farmer. "Today, workers are missing for asparagus harvest, but tomorrow they'll be missing in apple orchards, for planting season and for all the other crops," asserts Fasoli. "It's going to get really get bad."

The bleak situation could further deteriorate in the face of possible interruptions of the production supply chain, warns Giuseppe De Filippo, manager of the Futuragri farming cooperative in the southern city of Foggia. "We risk business shutting down next month," said De Filippo, who sells asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes and melons farmed by Futuragri members. "In addition to the lack of workforce, we also face the issue of packaging sheds. We're adopting all safety standards and keeping the necessary distances. But if one of our workers tests positive for coronavirus, our warehouses will rightly be closed."

The agricultural production sector is suffering significant damages. Although the sector has succeeded in guaranteeing food supply chain, turnover is declining due to a series of factors. Restaurants have closed, and the demand for fresh products has dropped as consumers are more likely to stock up and purchase dry goods.

The emergency "Cura Italia" decree provided several measures to support the sector: 100 million euros to support agricultural or fishing companies forced to suspend their activities, 100 millions euros for access to financing, advance payments from the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy and a 50 million euro increase of the EU's FEAD budget to ensure food distribution to the poor.

The threat on the horizon is frightening and affects us all. What if the country can no longer produce food due to lack of workers? Now more than ever, this crisis makes clear the incontrovertible fact that Italy"s food industry is largely based on foreign workforce, who today are unable to cross borders.

"The situation is serious, emergency solutions must be put in place," says Romano Magrini, head of labor policies at Coldiretti. "That's why we ask to reintroduce vouchers in agriculture as well as the possibility of employing workers facing redundancy or people working in other paralyzed sectors such as tourism and food service."

The threat on the horizon is frightening and affects us all.

According to Magrini, it would only be "a temporary measure to give a new breath of life to agriculture." Also, worthy of consideration to fill in the manpower gap are the thousands of foreigners whose asylum applications have been denied.

Unprotected, often forced to live in informal and undignified settlements — all the more dangerous in this period — they could be legalized as workers. That's the proposal coming from the left-wing agro-industry union Flai-Cgil and others such as Terra! and Oxfam.

A petition has been submitted to President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella and several cabinet ministers for the regularization of such workers, stipulating a seasonal employment contract. The written plea reads: "It would be a fair measure safeguarding the national interest during this difficult period in which any damage to agriculture and its function of protecting Italian food security would cause dramatic harm."

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Worries in Buenos Aires

For Italians, A Coronavirus Lesson On Undesirable Foreigners


ROME — I've got a daughter who works abroad and, like many Italians, she is experiencing for the first time a different reaction when she says: "Yes, I'm Italian."

It is the gaze of mistrust and fear that makes her and her friends uncomfortable and cautious: Almost all of them have given up on the short visits home they had planned, out of fear they will not be able to come back, or be subjected to quarantine or to be subject to even greater suspicion if they do succeed in returning.

For Italians, this feeling of being looked at negatively is a new sensation in the face of the coronavirus spread through the country. In rating charts we have always been among the most popular and loved, those invited to parties to make a good impression.

Our popularity rating has been repeatedly measured by statisticians: we are at the top of every top ten of the sexiest, nicest and friendliest peoples.

The situation has changed in the last few days with COVID-19. Eighteen countries have denied entry to Italians or to those who have been in Italy in the last few weeks, another 15 countries are forcing all citizens from our country into a precautionary quarantine.

Germany and eight other nations have introduced a questionnaire for those arriving from the northern Italian regions. It is called a "landing card," and serves to ensure that all travelers can be easily contacted if necessary. But it is also a new form of control for the thousands of compatriots who used to cross these borders every week without any formalities.

My daughter tells me that in restaurants, people at neighboring tables have gotten up to leave after overhearing conversations taking place in Italian. One can imagine that this will happen elsewhere too: the gaze of fear does not only concern the great international events that are being canceled, but also those minor events in the daily lives of Italians abroad.

Newspapers in Tel Aviv reported that during the quarterfinals of the women's volleyball championship, one of the teams has two Italian players, which led to the suspension of the game because some of the other players were scared to share the same court.

We are feeling ostracized in the world where we have always moved with ease.

A recent article on Vice Italia, our expats describe the embarrassment of being kept at a distance. From Moscow to Ireland, from Paris to Romania, the words are the same: "They ask us to stay at home, they look at us as if we are all infected."

Feeling ostracized in the world where we have always moved with ease, strengthened by a tradition of emigration that has brought us success just about everywhere, is a new sensation for Italians. But perhaps, it is also an unexpected retaliation. We have been among the countries most ready recently in set off alarms and prejudices towards foreigners and the color of their skin, their origin, social conditions, religion, habits — and that includes the possible diseases some say they carry.

We have always launched sanitary alerts: scabies or tuberculosis brought by immigrants are a great classic of the sovereignist narrative. But in recent years we've never suffered from these suspicions, we never found ourselves in the ghetto of the undesirables.

Very often, we have heard politics calling for the abolition of Schengen, and we have always thought that should the occasion arise, we would be the ones holding the right to keep out those we don't like and reap the benefits of closed borders.

Instead, we find ourselves unexpectedly on the other side, that of those excluded and suspected, the travelers that find a wall at the border.

It is a tough lesson. We should heed it when this emergency is over.

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Cape Penguins in South Africa

If Penguins Could Text: African Birds Compress Language Like Humans

The tendency to compress language belongs not only to humans, but also to this particular African penguin species’ way of communication.

TURIN — Very different species are sometimes united by the use of common linguistic patterns. The Cape penguins are known as "jackass penguins' because their particular call is so similar to the donkey's bray. But their language, notably their use of the syllables at their disposition to speak in the most "economical" way, is strikingly similar to humans.

The discovery, published in the prestigious Biology Letters scientific journal, is the work of two Italian scholars. University of Turin researcher Livio Favaro and Professor Marco Gamba, from the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, have shown that the tendency to compress language — when writing text messages, for example — belongs not only to humans, but also to this particular penguin species' way of communication.

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Migrants in Bosnia in Dec. 2019.

The Italians Who Wash The Bloodied Feet Of Refugees

A group of good Samaritans gathers regularly in Trieste, near the border with the Balkans, to receive weary migrants and tend their wounds.

TRIESTE — Ali will never know it, having died Sept. 21 after refusing to have his feet amputated, but this story begins with his own dramatic end.

It is a story about people who decided not to avert their gaze from what they saw before them, instead arming themselves with gauze and disinfectant to treat the wounds of the migrants coming to Italy after endless travels and harsh rejections.

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Manifestation of solidarity to the mayor of Riace Mimmo Lucano on May 11, 2018

How A 'Refugee Town' Fell Victim To Italy's Populist Politics

Fourteen months ago the progressive mayor of Riace, in Calabria, was arrested. Soon after, many of the refugees he'd help settle pulled up stakes and left.

RIACE — The blue plaque at the entrance of the pottery shop says "Home sweet home." It also seems to read Tsehayneshe's thoughts. This is where she belongs and plans to say, even if things aren't as they used to be.

"In Eritrea, my name means sun. Here in Riace, it feels like the sun's been gone for some time now," she says while hand-coloring a terracotta butterfly.

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Pope Francis meets with the needy at Palazzo Migliori

Pope Offers A Sumptuous Palace To The Homeless Of Rome

VATICAN CITY — While several Vatican buildings are embroiled in scandal, a few meters away from the colonnade of St. Peter's Square the "Palazzo Migliori" is becoming a symbol of goodness and generosity. Pope Francis has effectively "donated" it to the poor. Various entrepreneurs were interested in acquiring it and transforming it into a five-star hotel, but instead it has been transformed into a dormitory for the "invisibles of the night," the homeless who find refuge by wrapping themselves in wool blankets or cardboard boxes.

"We've restored dignity to the destitute through beauty," said Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who oversees the Vatican's office of Pontifical charity.

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Paese ritrovato hosts 64 people with dementia

Italian Alzheimer's Village, Where The Past Doesn't Exist

A facility that opened last year in the northern city of Monza offers residents a fleeting respite from the lonely, disorienting effects of dementia.

MONZA — "Rediscovered Country" (Paese Ritrovato) is a place that lives in the now. It's a small, enclosed, square-shaped village delimited by small, brightly colored houses. At its center are all the shops and services one might find in any provincial town: bar, church, minimarket, hairdresser, community recreational center. Before 10 a.m., when its four little streets are deserted, it looks like a movie set. Then, little by little, it awakens.

At the bar everyone asks for a coffee. "But we make it from barley," say the people behind the counter. "It's better to avoid caffeine."

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Berlusconi at a rally in Rome last month.

Berlusconi's Last Dance: A Sharp Right Turn?

With a now-leaderless Democratic Party and no charismatic successor to take over from Berlusconi, his one-time backers may migrate to more extremist parties.


ROME Italy once had what was known as Berlusconiano voters.

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Nothing fishy here

Meet The Doctor's Maid Who Inspired The Mediterranean Diet

A housekeeper with serious culinary skills helped feed the mind and mouth of Ancel Keys, the American doctor famous for documenting the health benefits of Mediterranean food.

CILENTO — She wrote the most significant chapter in the culinary history of Italy, and didn't even know it. And all because of a respect for tradition and visceral love for her land: Cilento.

Located in the southwestern province of Salerno, Cilento is the envy today of countries like the United States and Russia, where globalization has caused a spike in instances of obesity and chronic diseases. It's also where maid and top-chef Delia Martinelli, 82 — with her ladle and pots — returned Italy to the top of a singular ranking as the country with the best cuisine in the world, both in terms of taste and health benefits.

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Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango In Paris, 1972

Hot New Details From Italy's Battle Over 'Last Tango in Paris'

The infamous 1972 film sparked a years-long legal battle in director Bernardo Bertolucci's native land. The recently restored court archives are now being made public.

BOLOGNA — A young man from the province of Bologna buys a ticket and enters the Kursaal cinema in Porretta Terme to see a brand new film by director Bernardo Bertolucci. The date is Dec. 15, 1972, and what the 32-year-old sees up on the silver screen shocks him, so much so that he rushes to a nearby prosecutor's office to put it down in writing.

"Individual scenes and sequences have offended my moral sensibilities and my ideal aspirations as a citizen," he writes. "There are scenes that perturb the moral sense of the honest citizen."

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'There’s just too many of us.'

Overfishing: Italy And Croatia Reel In To Preserve Adriatic

Experts are pushing for expansion of the Fossa di Pomo project, which limits fishing to two days a week across a 1,500-km stretch of sea.

TRIESTE — The Adriatic Sea is becoming depleted, and could turn into a kind of underwater "eco-desert." There is one solution, however, that both Italian fishermen and scientists agree on. It lies in the ‘Fossa di Pomo" project (named after the expanse of sea it protects), an international experiment which could help the fish fauna repopulate the basin.

But time is running out. Especially for anchovies and sardines, which together account for 30% of all Italian catch and 80% of the Croatian haul. "It's a terrible situation, more dramatic than we've seen in decades," affirms Simone Libralato, a doctoral researcher at the National Institute of Oceanography and Geophysics (OGS) in Trieste.

The population of bluefish has nearly collapsed, according to the European Union's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). Mackerel, tuna and other species are also being fished at unsustainable levels. Only six out of 47 economically significant species are not overfished.

Sasa Raicevich, a researcher at the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Chioggia, just south of Venice, says an opportunity risks being squandered by overfishing. "The Adriatic could be a hot spot for fishing, but now Croatia and Italy are competing for resources," he explains "There nevertheless remains a desire to not completely lose this resource."

In point of fact, it is Italian fishermen who bring home between 70-80% of all the fish being caught in the Adriatic— most of which are pulled out of the Croatian side of the basin. For Italy, a market estimated at 263 million euros is at stake.

"The former Yugoslavia used to practically be a protected area. Fishing was an artisanal activity practiced near the coastline," explains Raicevich. "Since entering the EU, Croatia has dedicated itself to industrial fishing, equipping itself with a fishing fleet and going beyond the 12 nautical miles that fall under its legal jurisdiction."

And now, as Italy has begun limiting its fishing in the Adriatic, Croatia has ramped up its activity.

A fish market in Rijeka, Croatia — Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the 1970s, Italy used to fish between 70,000 and 90,000 tons of sardines and anchovies each year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Today, it's between 40,000 and 60,000 tons per year. In the 1990s, the Croatian fleet would catch 16,000 tons of bluefish. Today, it's 60,000 tons.

Despite the rapidly diminishing fish fauna, new technologies and ever-more more advanced ships mean fishing capacity is on the rise, threatening the future survival of both fish and fishermen.

The fishermen themselves acknowledge the situation. "Up until 10 years ago I had never seen a Croatian fishing vessel," notes Renzo Zennaro, a retired fishermen in Chioggia. "Today you cross them even in international waters. The problem is that there's just too many of us."

Guido De Grassi, a Trieste fisherman, concurs: "Before you were like Moses: you walked on water, from how many fish there were...We used to measure fish in tons, not kilos!"

How can two countries cooperate to protect their joint resources?

Now there is a new strategy, proposed by Libralato and his Croatian and Slovenian colleagues, enacted jointly by the countries ringing the Adriatic: the European FAIRSEA Project. The idea is to take advantage of the natural mobility of the fish. Protected areas are established, allowing the fish to breed, repopulate, then move out into the rest of the basin.

For now, only one percent of the Adriatic is a protected area: the "Fossa di Pomo," known in English as the Mid-Adriatic Pit (MAD), but the experiment could become a new model. "The creation of this restricted-fishing zone in the center of the basin is a bilateral initiative between Italy and Croatia," explains Nedo Vrgoc, a researcher at the Institute of Oceanography and Fishing in the Croatian city of Split. "It is the biggest protected area in the Mediterranean: a 1,500 kilometer-stretch of sea where fishing is forbidden, or only allowed in buffer zones two times per week. It's an example of how two countries can cooperate to protect their joint resources."

According to Libralato, since the Fossa di Pomo began to be safeguarded in 2016, signs of improvement have already been seen. For example, the hake population is recovering. "That's the point of the protected area: species repopulate, then migrate to areas where fishing is allowed," adds the Italian researcher.

The proposed solution, then, is a mix of measures, regulating fishing intensity and periodically closing some areas in order to allow fish to repopulate. The fishermen, however, must also be taken care of. Simply maintaining vessels has a cost, and each fishing ban is a serious blow to their incomes, explains Libralato. But the payoff will eventually be reaped in more fish, healthier fish, larger fish.

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Olivetti's Programma 101

Bill Gates, Say Grazie! How Olivetti Invented The First PC

Back in 1965, the Italian office machine company launched the revolutionary P101, used by NASA and later copied by U.S. rivals.

TURIN"I dreamed of a machine able to learn and then quietly execute, a machine that allows us to store instructions and data, but whose instructions were simple and intuitive; a machine that could be used by everyone, not just a handful of specialists. For this to be possible it had to be affordable, above all, and be about the same size as the other office products people had grown accustomed to using."

The words were spoken by Pier Giorgio Perotto, the lead engineer on the Olivetti team that built the Programma 101, the world's first personal computer.

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