Stuart Edwards

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Via Carlo Alberto in Rome's Chinatown
LA STAMPA

Chinese Stores, Made in Italy

Business models are changing, but Chinese presence in Italy's business world remains high.

ROME — It all started with spring rolls and cheap screwdrivers: this is how China first entered our homes. If the restaurants with the dragon sign put us in contact with Asian cuisine, the shops that populate our cities, thanks to the low costs and the big assortment, paved the road for the invasion of Chinese products. But over the past few years, Chinese entrepreneurship has adopted a different guise, transforming what many believed to be a colonization into a new resource for our economy. Today, between 40-50% of the products displayed in Chinese shops are "made in Italy" or are distributed by Italian import-export businesses to meet EU security requirements.

Because of development, the cost of labor has almost tripled in China, while the euro-yuan exchange rate has fallen 20-30%, reducing the wholesale margin, explains Francesco Wu, honorary president of the Italy-China Entrepreneur's Union (UNIIC) and advisor on foreign entrepreneurship for Italy's Confcommercio business association. Another key factor is that the quality of products has risen, and as a result, their prices as well.

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Good boy?
LA STAMPA

The Secret World Of Dogfighting In Italy

Kali and Marika have been stuffed with nandrolone and carnitine, doped and "dried," waiting to represent the Wild Boys Kennel against rivals Top Line. And so it would end: the former died, the latter won. Zeus instead had been tested with a couple of sparring matches, waiting an encounter with Dwaith: they tore each other to pieces, and a winner was declared on points, as gang members dubbed "the Belgians," "the Frenchman" and "Marko the Serb" looked on.

Such sequences are described in a recent report from an Italian investigation into dogfighting, featuring mainly pit bulls. It is a grim story of a fight club for dogs with secret Facebook groups, bets worth thousands of euros, and a transnational network that trains and places these canine champions in secret rings around Italy.

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Yellow Vests protest in Manosque on Feb. 2
Geopolitics

French Yellow Vests: How Social Unrest Begets Anti-Semitism

PARIS — European history has shown, time and again, that anti-Semitism is an indicator that the social state has become unstable. It's therefore not shocking that it's developing today in France, linked in particular to fringes of the anti-establishment yellow vest movement. The paths laid between a society in crisis and anti-Semitism have been laid in the collective subconscious. Jews are often perceived as belonging to the elite, notably the intellectual and financial elite; and thus when a movement attacks the elite, it quickly moves to attacking Jews.

An additional noteworthy factor: There are very real extremist infiltrations into the Yellow Vests ("Gilets Jaunes') movement. And these extremists, despite their ideological differences, have two points in common that have come up throughout history: the rejection of "the system"— whatever that's supposed to mean — and that of the Jews. Hence improbable alliances between socialists and nationalists of which Nazism was the worst example.

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Electric scooters, like the pictured Lime, have taken Paris by storm
Society

How Paris Became The World's Electric Scooter Capital

Competition is fierce as no fewer than six self-service electric scooter startups vie for control of a Parisian market particularly cut out for the light mobility solution.

-Analysis-

PARIS — At this rate, there won't be any more colors available. A few days ago, red electric scooters from the start-up VOI and green scooters from competitor Tier made their debut on the pavements of Paris.

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Women in the streets of Tehran, Iran
Geopolitics

Salimi Saga: How The Iranian Revolution Changed One Family

SARI — On this frigid January night, Maliheh Salimi's home is brimming with excitement. A rental company delivered metal chairs and tables early in the morning. Pink and white balloons were inflated; lace was knotted in the shape of a butterfly and pinned on the walls. Large pans, full of rice that Maliheh had left to simmer in a mix of water and salt, are steaming on a gas stove. The 57-year-old woman says she's lucky: One of the apartments in her building, in the modest neighborhood of Shahran (west of Tehran), was free this month, and the landlord agreed to let her use it as a temporary venue for her second-born son Amir's engagement party.

Part of the family traveled from Sari, a city in the north of the country. The Salimi* family are a bit like the protagonists Emir Kusturica's movie Underground: Within a few seconds, they can go from total silence to a frenzied dance, clapping their hands and shuffling their feet, while the most inventive of them borrow saucepans and trays from the kitchen to use as makeshift drums.

Women have arrived dressed in black chadors (the full-body veils worn by the most traditional and religious Iranian women). They slip away to change and quickly reappear in chadors of lighter shades, as they are inside and it is time to party. In the room, the marble floor and white walls are lit by raw neon light. Other women are wearing ample dresses with long sleeves and have chosen simple headscarves instead. Some — the younger ones — wear makeup, short skirts, their heads uncovered. All of them gathered in the same Salimi family. The venerable Madame Salimi is the eldest: At 80, she is the mother of some, the sister of others, or their aunt. But this evening, she is first and foremost the grandmother of the groom-to-be.

Looking at her, and even knowing her well, you couldn't possibly fathom how different her generation was from the ones that followed. Those differences — however trivial they may seem — really are evolutions, freedoms that were obtained gradually through everyone's resistance against the rigidity of Iranian society and, on a smaller scale, against that of the family. This is what makes the Salimis a perfect example of the kind of middle-class, educated families who have transformed themselves, and, in turn, transformed Iranian society since the revolution of 1979.

In the family's hometown of Sari, back when Madame Salimi's legs still allowed her to walk the streets of her neighborhood, people would stand to greet her. She is a generous woman who has earned the respect of the inhabitants. In Sari, if someone has a problem, they know where to turn. Madame Salimi always finds a solution.

I still remember the doors I'd knock on.

Her reputation dates back to before the revolution. In the 1970s, her husband was an outspoken critic of the dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After dark, he would lower the shutters of his copy shop and, with the help of his two eldest sons, Ali and Ramin, photocopy the press releases of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The great leader, driven out of Iran in 1964, was then living in exile in France. "I was 14 years old when, one day, I saw my parents sitting on our attic floor," recalls Ramin, now 54. "My father would start his tape recorder and stop it a few seconds later. My mother would write the words down: ‘We … the people … of Iran." It was a press release from the imam (Khomeini.) An opponent to the regime, all the way from France, was dictating the imam's words to another revolutionary in Iran, who recorded them on a cassette and would then distribute it around. And so on and so forth, from house to house, the words circulated throughout the country in just a few days."

In Sari, to inform people that a protest was about to take place, Ramin would take his bike, following his father's advice, and pedal his way through the streets, knocking on doors to ask every inhabitant to tell four others: "The next morning, we met where we had agreed and, suddenly, there were 500 people! An hour later, 2,000…. Magnificent! I still remember the route I'd take, and the doors I'd knock on."

Overthrowing the Pahlavi dynasty was then felt as a necessity for many, due to the repressive climate and the dictatorial character of the system. Ramin's sister, Maliheh, remembers when going back to school after deciding to cover her hair with a scarf. She was 15, then: "The headmistress first refused to let me enroll because, on my ID photo, I was wearing a headscarf."

Women walking in Tehran in July 2018 — Photo: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua/ZUMA

Everyone who is old enough remembers the day the Shah left the country, in February 1979, and even more so the day that imam Khomeini returned to Iran, from France, after almost 15 years of exile. "Those were our first national holidays ever!" says Ramin. What happened next is like watching a film on fast-forward. The Islamic Republic was established the same year. But in November 1980, Iraq attacked Iran. Ramin followed in the footsteps of his eldest brother, Ali, and left for the front lines. "Both of them wanted to fight," Madame Salimi remembers. "Even if I had told them no, they still would have left. They were in love with their country and with the revolution."

Beneath the bombs, in the southwest of Iran, close to the border with Iraq, Ramin recalled getting ready for his Baccalaureate exam with the help of a few school books a friend had sent him. He passed his exam in Ahvaz and when he returned to Sari for a surprise visit, he caught his two little brothers as they were playing chess. "I broke the chessboard in two and chucked it into the trash. And yet, I used to love that game ..." Ramin recalls. Chess had just been prohibited and remained as such until 1988, when Ayatollah Khomeini lifted the restriction.

After a year on the front, Ramin enrolled in a howzeh, a religious school, with the goal to become a member of the clergy, "because their family was religious and all the universities all closed around that time," following the cultural revolution of 1980-1983. As the Islamic Republic was conducting a purge on "Western elements' in the education system, Ramin became a high school teacher, teaching philosophy, logic, religion, and the Arabic language.

It's also the time when Ramin decided to change his name to Mohsen, "more conventional" and adapted to a religious career under the turban. "My former name sounded a bit too "cool guy,"" he says with a smile.

I liked my life as it was.

The years went by. In 1988, the war with Iraq ended, with the overall death toll between 500,000 and 700,000. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini died; Mohsen walked dozens of kilometers to attend the funeral. "As a leader, he was as charismatic as can be. We idolized him," he says today. The following decade, the young man carried on with his religious studies, while getting a Bachelor's in political science and a Master's in history. That's when he decided he did not want to become an imam after all. "I liked my life as it was."

Society changed. The shadow of war faded, life resumed its course. Zeinab, the youngest daughter of the family, born in 1981, turned out to be a rebellious teenager: At 14, she decided not to wear her headscarf at family celebrations, against the advice of her older brothers. "Ramin and Ali kept criticizing me," she recalls. Zeinab became the target of rumors about her relationships with boys. In a small town like Sari, she was seen as too frivolous, not respectable enough.

In Tehran on Feb. 14, 2018 — Photo: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua/ZUMA

In 1997, after years of what many consider "wishy-washy" politics, reformer Mohammad Khatami's candidacy awakened sections of society that saw the possibility of a new era in this man, likely to bring forth more political and societal openings. Mohsen would wind up campaigning for the candidate along with his students.

Khatami's landslide victory in the first round was a surprise. Newspapers were created, freedom of speech increased. Women claimed more rights. Civil society took root. Ramin gradually stopped using his new name. Once a strictly pious man, he started shaking hands with his female cousins from time to time. In the family, things started changing too: While before, someone's absence was brushed away by a vague "oh, he's on duty at the hospital," separation and divorce were now no longer taboo.

Zeinab ended up marrying her boyfriend. The two had been meeting up in secret for more than seven years, but Madame Salimi refused to acknowledge the young man's existence before his parents officially came to ask for the hand of Zeinab, now a 37-year-old doctor. "Because of my position in the town, I could not consider him my daughter's boyfriend," says Madame Salimi. "That just wasn't the way things were done." Choosing to marry your boyfriend wasn't done either — but that's what happened. The couple now has a daughter, Asal.

Everyone knew something was wrong.

But the "greatest ordeal that God has planned" for the Salimi family happened in 2009. That's when Shaghayegh, the niece of Ramin and Zeinab and Madame Salimi's granddaughter, decided she wanted a sex-change operation. Such interventions had been authorized in Iran following a 1981 fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini, but in a small town like Sari where everyone knows each other, how were they to face this "shame," this "disgrace"? How could they avert such a disaster? Even Zeinab, the youngest and most progressive of the siblings, struggled to make her peace with Shaghayegh's decision.

"I've always behaved like a boy," says Siyavash — the name Shaghayegh chose after transitioning. "I hated being called ‘Miss." Everyone in our family knew that something was wrong, but at the same time, nobody wanted me to do anything about it." Siyavash, now 30, runs a restaurant in Sari. He says that his parents, aunts and uncles "cried a lot, but they've finally come to terms with it."

Siyavash underwent surgery twice in 2015: to remove his uterus and ovaries, and then his breasts — two operations whose costs were partly covered by social security and a health insurance fund. Every now and then, a member of his family will inadvertently call him "Shaghayegh," before immediately rectifying. Seeing Siyavash for the first time after his transition is always a source of concern for the family. Like tonight, for instance, at Amir's engagement party.

Siyavash catches a couple of furtive glances, particularly aimed at the nascent black hair of his beard and mustache. "They are very religious and strict. It doesn't take much to look at them and read in their eyes what they think," says Ramin, glazing over at a group of women in white chadors sitting in the marble room. But that doesn't seem to bother Siyavash, who flaunts a bow tie — and a matching purple sweater — and dances, as a man comfortable in his body. "I feel better," he says. "This isn't heaven, but it's a lot better than the hell I used to live in."

The Salimi family is hardly an isolated case. According to Zeinab, the youngest of her generation, born two years after the revolution, "almost all families have gone through more or less similar experiences, the same evolutions." Glancing toward Madame Salimi, she adds: "Even my mother has changed."

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Yellow Vests protest in Paris in December
Sources

'Yellow Vests' And The Limits Of Democratic Force

-Analysis-

PARIS — So what has become of this France, champion of maintaining order, exporter of its savoir-faire and its materials to other democracies — and to totalitarian regimes anxious to quell burgeoning opposition movements? Just a few years ago, a spokesman for French tear gas manufacturer Alsetex, which supplies to the French police, told Le Monde, "our tear gas formula is the purest in the world, which allows people to be taken before the judge in a good state; our grenade is the marque of ‘French democracy.""

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Migrant walking on a beach in Tangier, Morocco
Geopolitics

On The Road To Europe: Morocco Cracks Down On Migrants

Since this summer, Morocco is the theater of an unprecedented wave of arrests and forced displacements of Sub-Saharan Africans forced to hide.

TANGIER — They came at 5 A.M, in the Boukhalef neighborhood in Tangier, pounding at the doors and ordering the residents to come out of their homes.

Donatien, a 35-year-old Cameroon native, who today is sheltered in the south of Morocco, recalls the arrival of several vans with policemen and paramilitary forces that report to the minister of the interior. At the bottom of the apartment building, around 50 men, women, and children were piled into a car and taken to the central police headquarters. They would wait there for more than 12 hours without food or water.

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Shades of arancione
food / travel

Agazzano Reveals The Secrets Of Italy's Orange Wine

AGAZZANO — This village in the northern Italian province of Piacenza is tucked between the hills. The locality is celebrated primarily for its castle, a complex that represents an incredible synthesis between defensive medieval architecture and the elegant, ladylike mansions of the Renaissance. And the beautiful interior of the Castle of Agazzano is the perfect location for a Dec. 9-10 celebration for a delicacy that is its own splendid form of synthesis.

If you've never seen or tasted it, "Orange Wine" is a kind of white wine prepared according to an ancient tradition that makes it a very particular color (not the fruit!) that is the source of its name. For many years, in fact, natural winemakers with a passion for tradition have brought a fourth color back to the table. One can now find wines made from white grapes that take on a thousand shades of orange: from amber to bright orange, to bronze. This particularity is due to extended contact of the grape first with the must of the wine, and then with the wine itself. The processing is the same classic vinification used for red wines: grape skins release the substance contained inside, making the wine more complex and intriguing to both the nose and mouth—and it is the peel that allows the expression of the true identity of the wine.

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Protesters wreaked havoc in the French capital Saturday
Geopolitics

Macron, What Now? France Faces Worst Social Unrest Since 1968

-Editorial-

PARIS — The violence committed in Paris and other French cities on Saturday is, in every meaning of the word, unspeakable. The destruction, pillaging and assault against those charged with maintaining order must be condemned without reserve, because they are without excuse. There are no words to give meaning or direction to the flood of rage and hatred that spilled for hours across the posh neighborhoods of the capital.

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Closure for the families of those who didn't make it across the Mediterranean.
LA STAMPA

Photos, Clothes And Bones: Identifying Migrants Lost At Sea

A forensic expert heads a dedicated team working to try to identify those who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. It is often to simply close the wounds of broken-hearted loved ones back at home.

At first sight, he must have been 18 years old. But look at the iliac crest on the upper pelvis, says one of the doctors. The iliac crest still hadn't fused, as occurs in adults: The boy was younger, perhaps 16. Then, they go for the teeth, extracting the second and third molars. The third had a root that was just beginning to form. So, 14 years old. They strip him. Coat, vest, shirt, jeans. Between the linings of the coat, they felt something hard and square. They unstitch it. It's a report card written in Arabic and French. Math, physical sciences. It must have been the most precious thing that he owned. It was the pass that would help him grow up in Europe.

Cristina Cattaneo, a native of Casale Monferrato, is a professor of legal medicine at the University of Milan, and director of Labanof, a laboratory of forensic anthropology and odontology. Her expertise has been put to a five-year-long effort: that of givgin a name to those who died anonymously. The project is done for the same eternal reason Priam begged Achilles to return the body of his son, Hector, so he could bury him. And Cattaneo has now published a book about the grim but necessary process, called Naufraghi senza volto (Faceless Shipwrecked).

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Eating at Paris' La Condesa
LES ECHOS

Lunching In Paris With An Haute Cuisine 'Food Spy'

For the series 'Cook Me,' journalist Elvire von Bardeleben shared a table with Marianne Lecerf and Côme de Chérisey from the French restaurant guide Gault & Millau.

PARIS — We were supposed to be meeting a certain Gilles, known in world of gastronomy as "the finest palate of France." But instead we find ourselves face-to-face with a young blonde woman. "Hello, I'm Marianne. Gilles has been stuck in bed for 10 days after drinking some organic cider that wasn't very fresh."

Marianna Lecerf is the head of international coordination at the French restaurant guide and rating company Gault & Millau. As she explains her career as a former critic who now trains the teams, her boss, Côme de Chérisey — the Gault & Millau president, owner and editor-in-chief — arrives. It is he who chose to lunch at La Condesa, a restaurant in Paris' 9th arrondissement owned by Indra Carrillo, a Mexican chef that Gault & Millau elected as "the young talent of 2018."

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A street vendor in Mexico
Economy

Why Mexico's Economy Needs More Than Just A Balanced Budget

Policymakers have, for the most part, learned to avoid fiscal deficits. And yet, growth numbers (with the exception of certain states) have been stagnant at best.

-Analysis-

MEXICO CITY — The big lesson from Mexico's crises from the 1970s to the "90s was that economic stability depends on balanced public finances. Every time there was disorder in the government's fiscal accounts — usually because of overspending that fueled public debt — the peso lost value and the public as a whole paid the price.

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