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Musings From the Old Country


An on-the-ground look at how the European debt crisis is affecting Italy.

Editor's Note: The following was posted in real time on our premium Buzz & Banter (click for a free trial).

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Good morning, Minyanville readers. I have just spent a glorious week on the "important stuff" with family and friends in Italy, but always with half an eye and two ears on what might be relevant to the financial world. Here are some very random thoughts from my trip to the old country.
  • The business atmosphere did not feel nearly as dire as I had heard. Deep discounts are pervasive but non-touristy restaurants on a weeknight had a steady stream of customers.
  • When chatting about the economic mood of the country, there was a very consistent theme: Folks are very worried about the financial shape of the government, but feel fine about their own financial condition. With vacation planning in full swing (Italians start late), "stay-cations" are not being broadly considered.
  • Out of left field at least for me -- and perhaps somewhat biased by the fact that many of my friends work in fairly high levels of the armed forces -- there is extreme concern about the situation in Syria. Drawing on their knowledge of military history, more than once these folks made coherent arguments on how a miscalculation in Syria might quickly mushroom into a conflict involving major powers.
  • In Italy, you can buy and fill up a natgas powered car (many are gasoline-natgas hybrids with two distinct tanks) just as easily as you can service a gasoline fueled vehicle. Can the US really be so sclerotic about this obvious technology?
  • From the more open-minded types, the concept of a culturally integrated European Union gets the same respect as a Rodney Dangerfield joke. Others are outright hostile about the idea. No one wants a collapse of the euro currency, but many suggest that it was a horrible idea at the start. If I had to reconcile these contradictions in one sentence, I'd say Italy feels trapped in the EU.
  • There is general admiration for Monti's willingness to take on a thankless task, but both the left and the right are getting restless over not being able to feed at the trough. Internally, the old guard of the major political parties -- the center-right PDL and the center-left PD -- is under assault by the fringes of their respective ends, and are under the leadership of young non-politicians. Where have I seen that movie before? It should make for an interesting election season early next year, and a difficult evolution of financial policies, particularly if anarchists attempt to step into the developing political vacuum.
  • I already miss the food.
  • When Italians make jokes about France's proposed "tax the rich" plan, you know Hollande has gone flying into the deep end. It is small consolation, however, for the 80% of Italians who own real property and who made the first payment under the new property tax scheme, which pretty much doubled the rate overnight.
  • If Italy wins the European soccer championship, the collapse of the world financial system won't make the fourth page of the newspaper for weeks, especially if we get to beat France in the process.
  • Walking on the same cobblestones where centurions tracked more than 2000 years ago still gives me the goosebumps. Too bad around 400 AD some emperor decided he could forge wealth by substituting gold coins with gold-plated copper ones. The rest truly became history for arguably the greatest empire ever. That obviously could never happen to the US because as we all know, "This time is different".
  • Looking to go long in size: Stracciatella di bufala (the stage in the making of mozzarella just after it changes from being "burrata" but before it becomes mozzarella), with sweet red tomatoes, olive oil, and basil, followed by a plate of "pasta a la Norma," a tomato sauce with sautéed zucchini and eggplant, fresh sardines, and salty ricotta cheese.
And I told you I already miss the food.
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