Michael Gregorio


The Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guide

date: 16 September 2014 at 19:32:45 - 0 comments

These vaguely’ intellectual’ games on Facebook and elsewhere remind me of those pyramid ‘investment’ schemes that took the whole world by storm a few decades ago.

The idea was this: send a £1 note to ten friends, who then send ten £1 notes to ten more of their friends, placing you at second/third/fourth/etc place in the list. If the scheme expands and expands and you are one of the names of the recipients on the list, then you will get back far more than the £10 that you initially ‘invested.’

Quite rightly, such things are banned by law today in any respectable country. The people at the top of the pyramid made cash, while those at the bottom just kept the scheme afloat until it sank.

So, today’s more innocent version – no money changes hands – is the book meme.

You name ten books that have changed your life, remained in your thoughts, or which you have, perhaps, used to roll cigarettes, or wipe your bottom…

I get roped into them as a writer. People are curious to know what you read, and I feel that I have to take part so as not to spoil the fun for more innocent souls who enjoy learning that they, and many other people, have read Dan Brown, Stephen King and George Orwell’s 1984.

So, where’s the catch, and why am I objecting?

I said above ‘no money changes hands,’ but this is not precise. Money does change hands, even if you don’t know it, and never see it. Every time you click on Facebook, sponsored ads appear, and poor old Facebook gets paid. Every time you send a message, a server is taking his tiny little cut as an intermediary. Indeed, this is a pyramid scheme in inverse form. The more we all use Internet for fun, the more revenue we generate for the companies and the businesses which thrive on Internet. Of course, shares in Facebook increase in value. And so on.

So, how can we stop it?

Well, the best thing would be to name 10 books that nobody else has ever read.

Here is my list:

  1. The Supplemental Directory of Baltimore Daguerreotypists
  2. Pictorial Effect, Naturalistic Vision
  3. The Elizabethan World Picture
  4. Victorian Values
  5. The Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guide to Stately Homes and Castles
  6. The Lure of the Sea
  7. Popular Literature – a History and a Guide
  8. Human Remains – Dissection and its Histories
  9. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
  10. Portrait of Polperro.

I swear on the Holy Bible (which I have also read from cover to cover) that I have devoured every single word of every single book listed above.

I dare anyone to say that they have read more than one of them!

If anyone can tell me the first word on page 49 of any three of the books listed above, I will be happy to send you any one of them with a dedication signed by me, except for numbers 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 or 10, which I absolutely refuse to part with!  

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Don't forget the kitchen sink!

date: 13 September 2014 at 10:17:27 - 0 comments

How to balance the national budget?

The answer is simple, at least in Italy: just include everything!

This idea has been clouding the thinking of Italian politicians for at least three years. Indeed, when estimating the Gross National Product back in 2011, some genius came up with the splendid idea of taxing everything. If only you could stick VAT on the sale of drugs, the sale of bodies, the sale of illegally imported cigarettes, and so on, then the expected revenues would amount to 15 and a half billion euros per annum…

The trouble was that there’s no easy way of collecting VAT from people who don’t declare their illegal, money-making activities.

What happened to the estimated €15.5 billion back in 2011?

The answer is simple: nothing.

Rather than quietly shelving the notion, the Italian bright boy, Matteo Renzi, is insisting on it. Whether for practical or statistical purposes in the face of criticism from the European Central Bank is still uncertain, though my bet is on the statistics…

And the estimates have gone up, too.

Apart from drugs, prostitution and contraband cigarettes, the Italian government is now having wet dreams about the underground economy, the unlimited and untaxed earnings of the various Mafias,  for example. ISTAT, the Italian state statistical unit, estimates that illegal, non-taxable transactions – i.e., money-laundering – amount to at least €130 billion per year. If you include that figure in the Gross National Product, then estimates of Italy’s wealth soar to unprecedented heights. Indeed, the unhealthy -0.2% estimate of growth which Europe attributes to Italy turns magically into a positive +2.0%.

O, wonder of wonders! Just think what you could do with an extra 2.2% of the GNP!

The problem remains the same, of course: how do you reap the benefits? Will every criminal, prostitute and loan shark immediately respond to the call?

And the risks are immense.

I live in a small town in Umbria where the council tried a similar diddle.

Each year when the annual budget was on the table, they included all the unpaid debts from the year before, and the year before that, and so on. It had been going on since 1992! Instead of writing off a lot of the older  debts as unrecoverable – often the debtor had died or declared bankruptcy – the lord mayor and the city accountants decided that these debts were actually ‘assets,’ which meant that the balance-sheet looked healthy and that the council could keep on spending…

End result?

The town is now in debt for at least €9 million, but possibly over €20 million.

Now, multiply that by billions…

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The Caucus-race prizegiving

date: 04 September 2014 at 10:24:49 - 0 comments

Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

So say the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, and thus ends the Caucus-race.

“What is a Caucus-race?” Alice had asked before the action started.

“Why,” said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.”

There is no starting-line, no competition, and the ‘running race’ ends when everybody has dried off after getting wet…

Something similar happened in Sicily last week when the results of a well-known prize for fiction were announced in the small town of Grotte near Agrigento. Many small towns in Italy have fiction prizes or literary festivals, and the results are sometimes even less predictable than Lewis Carroll’s famous Caucus-race.

The Racalmare prize was thought up many years ago by Leonardo Sciascia, a Sicilian writer who was famed for his novels which attempted to unravel the mysteries of the Mafia and the ambiguity of Sicilian society’s ‘bedfellow’ relationship with organised crime.

Winners of the prize tend to be novels which reflect the themes which were closest to Sciascia’s heart: political intrigue, the convoluted justice system, and the interpretation of history. Each year, novels are selected as eligible by the committee which oversees the prize, the 3 authors who got to the final the previous year, and a ‘jury’ consisting of 30 ‘readers’ from the town of Grotte.

It sounds a bit dull and terribly PC, does it not?

As a rule, the Sciascia-Racalmare prize coughs up a predictably serious, sociological tome that Zola would have been proud of, a novel which allows the lord mayor and the organisers to drone on about the legacy of Sciascia, the state of law and order, and the ongoing battle against the Mafia.

The book most likely to succeed this year was written, predictably, by the daughter of a judge who was murdered many years ago by the Mafia…

That’s what usually happens.

But this year the prize committee voted for a ‘novel’ that isn’t really a novel by a ‘writer’ who isn’t a writer (it was written in collaboration with a journalist) on a theme that would have had Leonardo Sciascia rolling over in his grave.

Malerba, the winning ‘novel,’ was ‘written’ by Giuseppe Grassonelli with the help of journalist, Carmelo Sardo, and it recounts Grassonelli’s fictional road to redemption. The ‘author’ is in prison for crimes which Sciascia systematically denounced – murder, extortion, belonging to a Mafia clan, and so on. He’ll be in prison for the rest of his life as he refuses to confess his crimes or name the Mafia associates with whom some of the murders were committed.

The ‘novel’ poses a number of perplexing questions, notably: is it true?

The fact is that many of the ‘characters’ are dead, murdered in real life by the ‘author.’

It could only happen in Italy, of course.

In Alice in Wonderland, all the runners in the Caucus race received a comfit as a prize. Everyone except Alice herself. “What else have you got in your pocket?” the Dodo asks, before generously awarding her a thimble which already belonged to her.

Maybe that’s the question the people of Grotte should have asked the author.

Not regarding the murder weapon he once had in his pocket, but what he had up his sleeve when he 'wrote' his 'novel'… 

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date: 25 August 2014 at 11:25:29 - 0 comments

We won’t be taking part in the so-called ‘ice-bucket’ challenge, and for two very good reasons.

First, it seems more like shameless self-promotion than charitable work to act silly, film yourself, or have someone film you, doing something which is pointless.

According to the newspapers in Italy, all the media ‘stars’ have taken part and the social web is overwhelmed by videos of the ‘events’, but the amount of money actually raised to fund research into ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – SLA in Italian) amounts to less than €70,000 in Italy…

The second reason?

We had a very close friend – a warm, generous, brilliant and intelligent woman – who died of the disorder four years ago. We wish to remember her as she was. We don’t think she would appreciate publicity ghouls making the most of the suffering that she was obliged to go through.

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Costa Concordia

date: 06 August 2014 at 17:28:34 - 0 comments

What do you do with a captain who sinks his passenger cruise-liner with a loss of 33 lives, then abandons ship and all the passengers remaining on board?

Does that sound like a nutty question?

In any country in the world you’d whip him naked through the streets, heap him with insults, accuse him of cowardice and gross negligence, charge him with criminal manslaughter and other nautical crimes, then you’d try him, lock him up and close him out of your mind as quickly as possible.

In any other country in the world, as I said…

...but NOT in Italy!

Captain Francesco Schettino, who is on trial for the sinking of the S.S. Costa Concordia in the Mediterranean Sea on 13th January, 2012, and causing the loss of 33 lives (including the corpse of a steward which has still not been recovered) was invited to speak in public about the disaster earlier in the month. Indeed, he was invited to ‘La Sapienza,’ the venerable University of Rome, to talk about the role which panic sometimes plays in fatal disasters…

Can you imagine it? 

Prof. Vincenzo Mastronardi, the teacher who was running a Masters course in Criminological Science at ‘La Spaienza’ University, placed the following announcement on his Facebook page:

11.00-12.30 RECONSTRUCTION OF EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE SINKING OF THE COSTA CONCORDIA with 3D graphics provided by Ing. IVAN PADUANO of La Sapienza, Rome. A commentary will be provided by COMANDANTE FRANCESCO SCHETTINO.

Then Prof. Mastronardi had the courage to write this:

There will be a discussion at the end of the lesson…

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