La Famiglia Cushman in Italia

Adventures of an American family in Italy.


I’ve been reading a couple of books about the final months of WW II and the immediate aftermath (Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-45, by Max Hastings; and After The Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, by Giles MacDonogh).  I love reading about European history, especially now that I live in the middle of the continent.  It makes it much more exciting and interesting when traveling about, even if it’s just a simply trip in the immediate area.  For example, this summer I biked from our house to the town (Dongo) where Mussolini was captured near the end of WW II, and one of my son’s soccer matches was near the village where Mussolini was executed shortly after his capture.   This historical awareness adds, I think, depth to daily life.

 However these books are a very tough read — the devastation Europe inflicted on itself just a short time ago is gut wrenching.  I’ve read a fair amount about the war itself and the atrocities therein, but I was pretty ignorant of life at the very end of the war for the continent as a whole.   It was beyond Hobbesian.

 As the war was ending, and shortly afterward, there were literally millions of rapes and murders.  Millions were refugees looking for, or forced to look for, a new home.  Across the continent, millions were starving trying to survive in a place that had undergone the most “scorched earth” war the world had ever seen.  Living in Europe today, it’s impossible to imagine what it looked like after the war.  After all, Europe saw the complete destruction of thousands upon thousands of towns and cities from London to Stalingrad (almost the same distance as from LA to NYC) and much of the countryside.

There are many ugly problems facing Europe today — for starters, the economic and currency crises have not come close to being resolved.  However, the fact that Europe has, for the most part, become a very peaceful and tranquil place after such a history is cause for recognition.  The amount this continent has changed in my father’s lifetime is simply jaw-dropping.

I’m not dead yet

For my birthday a few months back, I hiked the mountain behind our home and came down the other side.  It was drizzling and grey so there were no views.  I’m not a young buck anymore, but it was a great, great sensation to reach the top of my little mountain.  I’m not sure how long the hike was, but the mountain looms almost 1000 meters above our house and the ‘trail’ barely exists, and is rather steep.  It is definitely dangerous in spots.  The descent down the back (north) side wasn’t as steep as the ascent, but I was shocked to discover 6 inches of snow still on the backside, so there was a lot of slipping and sliding down.  It’s hard to describe how proud I was for tackling this mountain, and I hope to make it an annual birthday event to climb a local mountain.

Here’s the mountain I climbed —


Bene qui latuit bene vixit*

It is stunning to me, and I’m a computer geek, how quickly we’ve entered into a complete surveillance state.  Even more surprising is how it’s occurred without any discussion, controversy or even any general awareness.


Cell phones, beyond giving large corporations and governments knowledge of our conversations and messages (often without warrants),  are also perfect tracking devices detailing our location and movement at all times.  And we happily carry these tracking devices with us everywhere. 

Google and other sites monitor our every move on the internet.  Facebook, in fact, monitors users across the web even if they are not on the Facebook site, nor logged in, even if they aren’t Facebook users.

Government agencies all across the globe are accessing all this cell phone, email, internet, and other electronic data without any warrants or probable cause.  For example, according to the NY Times the NSA collects and stores 1.7 billion emails, telephone calls and other forms of electronic communications by and between American citizens every day.

A leading computer security expert, Bruce Schneier, blankly states: “All of us [are] being watched, all the time, and that data [is] being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it’s efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.” Read his entire post for a brilliant summary of the situation.

Let me close from a quote from Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald speaking on Bill Moyer’s April 26, 2013 show

"The surveillance state, this massive apparatus… that is extremely expensive and invasive… doesn’t really do much in terms of giving us lots of security.  But what it does do is it destroys the notion of privacy…

The way things are supposed to work is we’re supposed to know everything the government does, with rare exception, that’s why they are called ‘the public sector’.

And they’re supposed to know almost nothing about us, which is why we’re private individuals, unless there is evidence we have committed a crime.

This has been completely reversed, so that we know almost nothing about what the government does.  It operates behind this impenetrable wall of secrecy, while they know everything about what it is we’re doing, with whom we’re speaking and communicating, what we’re reading.

This imbalance, this reversal of transparency and secrecy… has really altered the relationship between the citizenry and the government in very profound ways.”

That’s putting it mildly.

* Quote from Ovid meaning something along the lines of One who lives well, lives unnoticed”.  This life, my friends, is no longer possible.

Before spring arrives, I want to post some photos of why I love the winters so much here.  All photos taken just a few miles from our home.

Beppe Grillo has touched a nerve

Beppe Grillo, as you can imagine, is getting a lot of press here in Italy.  Much of it is attacking him, but my guess is that is due to the fact that much of the press is part and parcel of the corrupt system here.  There’s always lots of interesting stories of corruption leaking out here so it’s no wonder a comic who’s sort of a cross between John Stewart and Michael Moore would get more votes in the recent election than any other candidate.   One recent example that details the corruption and the Italian attitude to it was an ex-senator  (De Gregorio) admitted Berlusconi allegedly paid him €3 million in 2006 so he would switch parties, which resulted in the collapse of Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s governing coalition. In the subsequent election, Berlusconi won.  But the most interesting part is De Gregorio’s typical Italian attitude to the affair.  When a reporter ask if he took the money, his response was “Of course I took the money.”  No shame, no regret, and no apology. 

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Italians seem hardly able to look at a high place without longing to put something on top of it.

Samuel Butler

Tunnel Open!

Normally I wouldn’t get too excited about the completion of a construction project, but this one is special.  The tunnel that now bypasses the incredibly narrow and dangerous lakefront road that passes from Switzerland to our home is now open.  Both our cars are completely scraped, dinged, scratched and side mirrors broken from driving this road.  To a neutral observer, it should be a narrow one way road.  In practice it is a two way road for Italian drivers to pretend they are going to be the next Mario Andretti.  It is only a few kilometers long, but it has been very nerve wracking and stressful to drive, especially in summer when the road is filled with tourist buses and campers that — no joke — caused traffic to come to a complete stop for up to an hour while the drivers yelled at each other in numerous languages.

But the fun is over now that the tunnel is open.  This is no ordinary tunnel.  Although it is only barely 2 miles long it took over 20 years to construct.  In typical Italian fashion it was delayed by numerous problems and delays, some engineering, but more political and cultural.  In the end, the project averaged about 16 inches per day. I bet ancient Romans using pick axes averaged better than that.

There was a ribbon cutting ceremony where the local mayor and big-wigs from the general contractor gave speeches.  The best part was when the construction company manager spoke of some of the difficulties that led to delays.  The crowd responded by drowning out his speech with whistling, which is the equivalent of booing.  The locals were not amused by the unbelievable delays on such a relatively simple project.  For perspective, just across the border in Switzerland they also recently opened a tunnel of about the same length.  However instead of 22 years of construction they finished it in less than 5 years and it included a new freeway interchange as well as a complete revamping of the nearby traffic patterns.  In fact Switzerland is currently building the longest tunnel in the world that goes completely through the Alps from Zurich in the north to Lugano in the south.  It is two separate bores  thousands of meters underground and yet the Swiss will finish this 57 kilometer tunnel in less time than the Italians completed our local 3 kilometer tunnel.

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A last summer hike in the mountains near our house, with the hamlet of Castello behind us.

A last summer hike in the mountains near our house, with the hamlet of Castello behind us.

Democracy: the dwarf`s paradise.

Elbert Hubbard


I had a Ricky Ricardo flashback today.  Dante and Roman were playing in the living room, and Dante started getting frustrated and turned to me and said, “Mamma, why Roman is not esplainen me?”    LOL