Swapping Bland Functionality for La Dolce Vita

Card Image
Posted by The Savvy Retiree on May 30, 2016 in Uncategorised

“Beauty awakens the soul to act.”
— Dante Alighieri

Joel Bowman, writing today from Sicily, Italy

We’ve come to awaken our senses, dear reader…to stir our soul to action…to bathe in the waters that time forgot…

Oh, and to check out some cheap digs! (More on that in upcoming installments…)

For the moment, we’ve taken a little dwelling in the hillside above Cefalu, a small beach town on Sicily’s northern coast.

The house itself is fairly basic…stone walls, terracotta roofing, cool tile floors underfoot. But it’s what’s outside that makes this place worth the journey.

To the west of the main structure, there’s a traditional pergola with an area for cooking and dining al fresco.

It’s where we eat most meals when we’re not in town.

Bougainvillea—in red, white and brilliant magenta—creeps along the walls and over the trelliswork. And in the surrounding gardens, tropical hibiscus and the ubiquitous plumeria (what Australians might recognize as “frangipani”) are in full bloom.

Out front, the view opens up down the valley. Craggy, rocky outcroppings…crumbling stone walls…precariously perched trees clinging to cliff faces…and clear, blue skies dropping into deep, azure waters below. (The ancients called these seas “wine dark”…but only because they didn’t yet have a word for the color blue. True story!)

In the middle of the yard is a single olive tree, under which we sit and write to you today…

Hey! We could get used to this!

A new home away from home…another language…a rich and vibrant culture.

Sure, the local economy is in the dumps…national debt is out the wazoo…and the big Italian banks have so many bad loans on the books they make their Greek counterparts appear as paragons of prudence.

Add to that, stagnant growth…high unemployment (double digits overall, nearing 40% among youth)…decreasing population…a notoriously unproductive workforce…and taxpayers who undermine the definition of the word as a matter of principle…

But wait…we were trying to think of negatives…

Besides, who wants to pay top dollar to live in an economy that “works?” If it’s bland and functional you’re after, there are plenty of places you can pass your days. (Try Zurich or Bremen or Fukuoka, just off the top of our head.)

There are those who crave structure and certainty.

Not us. We prefer form over function…chaos over predictability…an epic, storied past over a clean and well planned future.

And on those counts and plenty more (great local wine, a culture of unhurried lunches, family friendly atmosphere), Italy ranks right up there.

And, like our sometime home in Argentina, there’s a healthy, almost patriotic distrust of government officials and meddling bureaucrats. Another tick!

We’ll wait to see a few villas first…and meet a few locals…before making up our mind.

Meanwhile, a friend sends a tongue-in-cheek message from Buenos Aires…

“Welcome to the true market without subsidies. Water up 300%!”

Attached to the email is a copy of our utility bill. And…yep, the cost of keeping the taps on is triple what it was last quarter.

What gives?

Ah, the ol’ “bread and circuses” regime of the last administration has come to an end. No more subsidies. No more corruption. No more layabouts clogging up the public payroll.

At least, that’s what the new president has to say. And early signs are that he may well mean it.

Readers will recall there is a new jefe in town down on the Pampas. And while he’s got his hands full cleaning out the riff-raff of the last two administrations (those of Cristina Kirchner and her late husband, Nestor), some observers are confident he’s on the right track.

Here’s Louis James, the senior investment strategist with our friends over at Casey Research…

President Mauricio Macri has a very tough job ahead, given how much waste, corruption, and vote-buying handouts he has to rein in. That makes it essential that his administration do everything possible to support Argentina’s judiciary system as it goes after his predecessors. The more they can be discredited, the less difficult it will be for him to change their policies.

Already, Macri has managed to end a 15-year stalemate with creditors left holding the bag after the 2001 crash. He also let the peso float freely on the currency markets, taking devaluation lumps. It had to be done. Such moves toward fiscal responsibility have enabled the country to raise new money on the global credit markets. That’s quite a coup for a country that was on the blacklist a few short months ago. Even the UK, Argentina’s nemesis in the Falkland Islands War, is warming up to the new Argentina. Multinational corporations are taking notice.

Senora Kirchner did indeed run a corrupt and degraded administration. But the worst part of her lies and dishonesty is that she bothers denying them at all!

At least here in Italy, politicians have the good taste to admit they’re thieving, lying scumbags.

Let’s not forget, they have a proud history of depraved statesmen to live down to. (Think Tiberius…Caligula…Nero…)

Remember former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi? Recall his scandals, his “bunga-bunga” parties, his maladroit policy decisions, his bungling of international diplomacy, his disastrous domestic policy, the accusations of rampant corruption and backroom deal making?

He was eventually dragged before court…where the judge threw the book at him on a charge of bribing a senator. He got three years for his troubles.

Guess how many days he served?

That’s right. None.

Zip. Zilcho. Niente.

Will la dictadura Kirchner get the same? Not that it matters one jot…but we can hardly wait to find out.

Image: ©iStock.com/mythja