Italy: Random Facts and Trivia

Some random facts and trivia for the country of the world Italy, about the cities Venice, Florence, and Rome, the classes of peoplle, property and taxes.

ITALY

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In 1969, Italian multimillionaire Michele Sindona bought from the Vatican the controlling interest in Societa Generale Immobilaire, a giant real estate and construction conglomerate whose best known property is Washington's Watergate development.

While it lasts, Venice is the most unique, if not the most beautiful city in Europe. It changes moods at each hour of the day as the shifting sun is reflected by the canals onto ocher, sienna, and cream-colored stucco buildings. The water, the light, the absence of autos, make Venice dreamlike. The bonus is that it also happens to be a treasure trove of art and architecture. The Government, industry, and groups of Venice-lovers have been battling for years over plans to save the city from ruin as salt air, pollution from nearby factories, and sinking foundations erode the Queen of the Adriatic.

Built on both banks of the Arno River, Florence is a city for walkers and culture buffs. Its galleries and churches make it the art-lover's dream; one-way streets and parking shortages make it the driver's nightmare. Once the heart of the Renaissance, the center city looks more like the 15th than the 20th century. Admirers of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, and Botticelli jam the museums, bargain hunters crowd the arcaded straw market and the workshops of the leather artisans. Few think to go out to the magnificent villas with formal gardens that dot the surrounding Tuscan countryside. Not a very big city, but one that takes days to explore.

Rome stuns the visitor; the scale is awesome but there is a Rome for everyone. Rome of the Empire, Rome of the Church, the Capital, the center of fashion, the center of the Baroque. Its holy places attract the pilgrim, its antiquities lure the scholar. The Colosseum by moonlight is a clichÈ, but a good one if you are not accosted or mugged. Cafes of the fashionable Via Veneto provide a genteel setting for Rome's aristocracy in the morning, a gawker's paradise for tourists in the afternoon, and a human circus by night for the jet-setters and double-gaited swingers who hang on. In and around the Forum stand buildings from the time of Christ; not far away is Europe's oldest Jewish ghetto. Rome's fountains alone would make a city famous but there are also over 50 major churches, places, and museums. An author once said, "The problem isn't getting to Rome but getting away from it."

In a 13th-century version of germ warfare, the Florentines besieged the city of Siena by catapulting excrement and dead, decaying donkeys over the city walls to start a plague.

Peasants and the Exodus: Upward mobility is difficult in Italy's rigidly stratified social structure. The peasant in the south who wants to better himself must distinguish himself in school, move to a northern industrial town, or leave to seek his fortune in another European nation or the U.S. Between 1954 and 1969 the number of agricultural workers dropped by half as peasants abandoned the south for opportunities in the north and abroad. Those remaining are primarily small farmers who are hesitant to form cooperatives and so have little bargaining power in marketing their crops. They make up the poorest 35% of the population and earn less than 1/4 of the national income.

Factory Workers: Largely immigrants from the south, this group has increased in number rapidly since W.W. II. The peasant-turned-factory-worker used to consult his local priest on political questions. Once in the north he finds the Communist party responsive to his needs for employment, friends, and a place to live. The Communist party becomes the shelter for this rural immigrant, who works through his union.

Service Employees: Second to industrial workers in number, they include bureaucrats, clerical workers, and military personnel. The heavily bureaucratic Government has created many of these jobs to forestall heavy unemployment. An Italian official estimates that there may be 55,000 semiautonomous government agencies.

Aristocracy, Industrialists, Professionals: The aristocracy is respected socially but does not constitute a power group politically or economically. Even at the time of national unification, the nobility did not form a barrier to the advance of republican government. The educated and professional class is well respected and assured of a living standard comparable to other Western European nations.

Only 20% of national government income comes from direct taxes, while 80% is from excise and turnover taxes included in products' selling prices. The major tax burden is on the consumer. There are taxes on wine, on staples like wheat, a 60% tax on sugar, and a 70% tax on salt. Lately, in an effort to curb inflation, property taxes were raised by $80 per room.

"I hate city Italians; they wear ugly neckties."--D.H. Lawrence.

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