Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 2010 FSHSWACD Updates!

Ciao, Tutti!

Hope all is well. We've finally got spring-like weather near Annapolis...and the Great Snows of February Ought-Ten are all-but forgotten. Until next year.


The April 2010 updates are in! Rather than clog up in-boxes with two notes, I tried to attach both the Word and Excel files in a single zipped folder, but AOL frustrated that. So, will send Word file with this note and Excel file in a follow-up. Mea culpa...

Feel free to send to others on your Napoli address lists.

Mille grazie to FSHSWACD Cohort, Pat Carter Bryant (FSHS68 / pat0804@gmail.com) for her cheerful help with the Excel updates.

Napoli Virtual Tours

For those of us unlucky enough not to live in Napoli or thereabouts or to have travelled there recently, David Trueblood (FSHS71 / truebdwi@cps.k12.va.us) sends these URLs, sure to bring back memories:


Speaking of I Remember When....

FSHS teacher Stewart Williams (FSHS Music Director 1969-1927 / Akdeniz56@aol.com) sends this note:

On the day in September 1969 when this picture of me was taken by the young man who operated the limonata stand, the first top light was hoisted in Napoli and lanes were painted on the Via.

No parking signs were put up next to the side walks. But no one stopped at the red light. If you did, you'd be moved-on on by the power at your rear. If you drove in the lane on the curve, you would be crushed. And, parking continued half way across the side walk.

Reunions and Such

I'm told that several folks are planning reunions of one sort or another (send info!), and I recall the upcoming Overseas Brats reunion in Reston, VA, 5-8 August. Theresa Dickie Branscome FSHS78 (dickiemt@aol.com) is interested in pulling together a Napoli cohort for the festivities. The URL for the event is:

More to come, I'm sure!

That's about it for today. Be well...write if you have news. And, speaking of news, Napoli News is below.


Scott T (FSHS68 / SCTruver@aol.com)


Mount Vesuvius Eruption Could Cause 21,000 Casualties, Economic Losses of $24 Billion

Volcano Ranks Number One on Willis List of Europe's 10 Most Dangerous

WSJ Market Watch, 19 April 2010

LONDON, Apr 15, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- A major eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius could result in 8,000 fatalities, 13,000 serious injuries and total economic losses of more than $24 billion, according to a new study supported by the Willis Research Network (WRN) that puts Vesuvius at the top of the list of Europe's 10 most dangerous volcanoes.

The WRN, funded by Willis Group Holdings, the global insurance broker, is an industry-leading public-private partnership between Willis and many of the top scientific research institutions in the world.

The WRN volcano risk ranking, which examines European volcanoes with potentially affected populations of greater than 10,000, was developed by researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Naples Federico II and Willis Re, Willis' reinsurance broking arm.

In the paper titled, "Insurance Risks From Volcanic Eruptions in Europe," the researchers propose that the ranking be used as the basis for developing the first detailed insurance risk models for volcanoes in Europe and various European overseas territories. At present, no such models exist.

The WRN team identified the 10 most dangerous European volcanoes based on the size of a potential eruption, the number of people potentially at risk, and the value of property in the area surrounding each volcano. The study found that, together, the 10 volcanoes could affect almost 2.1 million people with an aggregated exposed residential property value of US $85 billion. The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland that erupted yesterday was not on the list, but the Hekla volcano, Iceland's most active, was ranked as the ninth most dangerous volcano in Europe.

Vesuvius poses the greatest risk to life and property, the study found, because it has the highest exposed population (1.7 million people), the highest exposed residential property value (US $66.1 billion), and the greatest potential for a seriously damaging eruption among the top 10 volcanoes. The study noted that more than 87 percent of the aggregated exposed property value for the 10 volcanoes is concentrated in the Neapolitan region near Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei.

The WRN European volcano risk ranking below shows the number of people living in the area that could be affected by 25 cm of ash fall in the assumed greatest eruption. It also shows the total residential property value exposed to severe damage or destruction in that eruption, taking into account the total number of dwellings within possible reach of pyroclastic flows or 25 cm ash fall and their full current reconstruction cost. While the Caribbean volcano of Soufriere Saint Vincent is not on European soil, it has been included in the top 10 due to the significant impact that an eruption would have on European territory.

Dr. Rashmin Gunasekera, a Catastrophe Risk Analyst at Willis Re and one of the authors of the paper, said, "There are significant numbers of highly active volcanoes in the wider European region, taking into account those in Iceland, the Spanish Canary Islands, the Portuguese Azores and the French islands of the Lesser Antilles. These are all major tourist destinations, and while property values drive our loss estimates, it should be noted that aviation, agriculture, motor and business interruption policies also will be affected."

WRN member Prof. Robin Spence, CURBE, University of Cambridge & CAR Ltd., and an author of the study, said, "Large explosive volcanic eruptions are rare events, but when they do occur, they have the potential to cause huge economic and human losses. In 2002, for example, rain combined with ash fall alone caused economic losses of around US $960 million after the eruption of Mount Etna in Sicily. In principle, however volcanic eruption is an insurable risk and our study concludes that the time has come for the development of an insurance risk model for European volcanoes to identify the scale of potential future impacts."

The WRN team was made up of Dr. Gunasekera, Prof. Robin Spence and Prof. Giulio Zuccaro, Scientific Director, Plinius Centre, University of Naples Federico II.

Volcanic risk affects major metropolitan areas worldwide, including Tokyo (Mt. Fuji), Mexico City (Popocatepetl) and Auckland (Auckland Field). WRN officials said they expect their volcano risk methodology will prove to be valuable in assessing risk in these other areas beyond Europe and its territories.

Volcano raises concern in Italy

By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes

European edition, Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NAPLES, Italy - The walls of Europe's largest undersea volcano appear fragile and an eruption could cause a tsunami that would engulf much of southern Italy, causing certain death and destruction, an Italian volcanologist said.

The latest research from Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology shows the undersea volcano Marsili, about 90 miles southwest of Italy's third-largest city of Naples, is in fact, active, said Giuseppe D'Anna, the institute's technological manager.

"We've known it's been there, maybe for about 40 years, but never really were able to study it until recently," D'Anna said in a recent interview from his office in Cefalu, near Palermo, Sicily.

"Finally, we were able to send down equipment - and the recent results show that it is an active volcano."

If the volcano were to spew its accumulating magma, the eruption would send forth a tsunami that would overwhelm Italy's southern regions of Campania, Calabria and the island of Sicily, D'Anna said.

D'Anna's predictions to Stars and Stripes, however, weren't as alarmist as those of institute president Enzo Boschi. Boschi was quoted recently in an Italian daily newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, as saying that collected data indicates "the volcano is active and could suddenly erupt. … It could happen even tomorrow."

"Well, I don't know about tomorrow," D'Anna said with a slight chuckle, "but our research indicates the walls are weak and there has been a measurable build up of magma in the chambers over the past several years.

"If it were to erupt, it could generate a tsunami that would impact much, if not all, of southern Italy."

However, he added, there is no way of predicting how high of waves an eruption would generate.

Marsili is about 9,800 feet tall, and its crater is about 1,500-feet below the sea's surface. The mountain measures slightly less than 45 miles long and 18 miles wide.

Unlike the island volcano of Stromboli, near Sicily, Marsili has not erupted in modern history, making it more dangerous, D'Anna said. Constant eruptions provide a release of energy and pressure for both Stromboli and Mount Etna, located on Sicily and Europe's largest surface active volcano.

Mount Vesuvius, which looms over Naples, technically is dormant, but is one of the most monitored volcanoes on the planet. And unlike Marsili, surfacing lava from Vesuvius would have to break through encrusted rock covering a chamber that is four to six miles below the mouth - an activity that would spur earthquakes, but no spontaneous and surprise eruption, scientists have said.

With U.S. military forces and their families living in the back yard of both Vesuvius and Etna, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes long have been a scenario tested in Navy disaster preparedness drills.

The Navy is aware of the institute's recent report on Marsili, but has not developed a scenario based on a tsunami, a Navy spokesman in Naples said.

"Natural disasters are something the regional staff, and in turn, the bases are always encouraged to pay attention to," Lt. Brian Badura said. "Like many parts of the world … we live in an area highly susceptible to earthquakes."

Routinely, people are reminded to have emergency kits and plans ready, he said. "If something were to happen, families need to know what to do."

After Hours: Italy, Di Francia Castello

By Lisa M. Novak, Stars and Stripes

Scene, Sunday, March 28, 210

If opulence, elegance and deep pockets are your thing, head to the Di Francia Castello reception and restaurant complex set high atop the volcanic hills of Pozzuoli, part of the Italian city of Naples.

It's hard to miss the crenelated castle walls and the huge yellow illuminated sign easily visible from the toll road running through downtown Naples.

The grounds are tiled in mosaic and include several large outdoor areas where drinks are served, and on special occasions an outdoor buffet of appetizers, fruits and pastries is available. There is also a small playground to keep the little ones occupied.

The main feature is the huge reception hall for weddings or other special occasions. Next to it is the complex's restaurant, La Locanda (which means "The Inn"), where a rotating staff of six chefs prepare a mix of local and international cuisine with fresh but expensive ingredients.

The appetizers start at 15 euros, and head north to 250 euros - though, to be fair, that last price was for an ounce of Beluga caviar. A bowl of soup runs about 18 euros, and the main courses are in the 20-40 euro range. Of course, if you pick one of the fresh lobsters out of a tank, you can pay upward of 100 euros per kilogram.

Obviously Castello, which opened in 1950, is not for the faint of wallet. And it's not a place for casual attire either. This is where the elite of Naples gather. You might catch a glimpse of leading politicians, professional athletes, actors, musicians and other prominent citizens, according to Antonio Palmese, who has been the establishment's director for the past few decades.

A model of discretion, Palmese wouldn't drop names, but did say that he's hosted grand wedding receptions for up to 300 people.

Just inside the restaurant is what looks like a living room, with assorted leather couches, a coffee bar and breathtaking views of the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia. Live piano music entertains guests Friday and Saturday nights.

The menu is well represented with rice and seafood dishes, and the drink selection is quite impressive. There are hundreds of different wines to choose from, including the restaurant's own house label. It also has a generous spread of spirits from all over, including aged whiskies and bourbons from the States.

The staff makes its own pastries and wedding cakes. Speaking of weddings, if you want to book Castello, you need to do so a year or two in advance, Palmese said. You might want to call now - even if you're not engaged.

'Saviour of Santo Stefano': One man's crusade to save southern Italy's ancient villages

By Peter Popham

The Independent, Sunday, 18 April 2010

Daniele Kihlgren came around the Gran Sasso mountain on his motorbike one day 11 years ago and saw Santo Stefano di Sessanio shining in the distance, and it was, he says, "una folgorazione" - "an electric shock". High stone walls shoot up from the mountain's flank, as a crenellated tower floats above the terracotta roofs. Inside, narrow lanes corkscrew towards the summit, here and there giving on to small piazzas and sunlit courtyards. It is a city in miniature: anyone who has seen the Tuscan or Umbrian hill towns knows the form. But in the case of Santo Stefano, it sat in perfect harmony with the woods and rolling foothills of Gran Sasso. Italy's rampant cement industry had got nowhere near: the place was pristine - and practically abandoned, with a population of about 100.

Kihlgren, who is a wealthy man, fell in love with Santo Stefano and bought his first house there and then. Soon, he owned eight more, and a quarter of the town, the owners long since lost to New Jersey or Toronto, was in his pocket.

What he did with them all is now well known. He struck an unprecedented deal with the local authority: in return for a guarantee of inedificabilita - a blanket ban on new building - he promised to invest serious quantities of money in bringing it back to life. Five years after he first set eyes on the village, and after an investment of €4.5m, Sextantio threw open its doors, and introduced discerning travellers from Italy and elsewhere to a face of the rugged Abruzzo region that they had never seen before, and an entirely new type of hotel: what he calls an "albergo diffuso", a "scattered hotel". No new structures were required; instead, reception, restaurant and guest-rooms occupied different medieval cottages clustered together on the town's slopes.

It was an immediate hit: in 2004, the year the hotel opened, the town had 79 beds available for guests, which were occupied for a total of 285 room-nights. Sextantio added 23 rooms to the total, and by 2008, the number of room-nights had leapt to 7,300. Kihlgren was also renovating a few village houses for sale, at wildly exorbitant prices by local standards. Soon, the mayors of half the dying hill towns of southern Italy, from Abruzzo to Calabria, were knocking on Kihlgren's door, demanding the same medicine.

Then, at 3.30am on the morning of 6 April 2009, the earth of Abruzzo quaked.

Daniele Kihlgren owes his money to cement, but he has devoted his life to stopping its advance. Though the phrase "consuming passion" trips lightly off the tongue, it is rare to find the real thing - but Kihlgren has it. I was with him for two days and he never slowed down. He never stopped talking. He has thrown all his energy into thwarting the plans of the Italian cement industry, to which his family's company belongs, to cover what remains of the peninsula in the stuff.

Italy has an insatiable appetite for cement. And this is unfortunate. They splash it around all over the place, especially where they shouldn't.

Wonderful, ancient cities such as Rome and Naples are encased in armatures of reinforced concrete housing estates. Lax and corrupt planning regimes up and down the country - particularly down - mean that the green hills of Lazio and Campania and Sicily, so pretty under the Mezzogiorno sun, are littered with modern, cement-made villas. Each enjoys the magnificent view which it plays its own small part in ruining. The developments have no logic except to keep on keeping on, until such once-upon-a-time beauty spots are carpeted in the products of Italcement, Caltagirone and Milesi, the Kihlgren family firm. There is no reason why the process should come to a halt: once the pristine countryside has been violated a few times, there is no longer anything to preserve.

Why don't they get it? Why don't they see what they are ruining so casually? With the exception of a few places such as Tuscany, where for the most part the authorities have had the wit to keep things in check, all of Italy is going this way.

The only other places remaining immune are those that are so poor, so thinly populated, so marginalised by history, so miserable in their destiny, that the national delight in splashing cement around stops a few miles short: places such as Santo Stefano. They are not wiser, more virtuous or far-seeing. They are just more broke. But they may also, by the caprice of history and trade, happen to be stunningly beautiful - in which case, the fortunes of the past and the misfortunes of the present unite to give Kihlgren what he, and only he, realised was an amazing opportunity.

Kihlgren had a messy upbringing. His father Bertil, son of a Swedish diplomat, married Rosella Milesi Saraval, member of a family from Bergamo, northern Italy, which had grown rich on cement. His parents split up when he was two; Kihlgren, a rebellious, tormented child, was expelled from three schools in Milan. In the process, he acquired an abiding hatred of communism, to which all of his schoolmates and their parents adhered - "a religion in Italy", he calls it.

Rejecting the polite Italian north in favour of the rackety and chaotic south, he studied philosophy at the University of Naples. He dabbled in hard drugs (his elder brother Edoardo was to die from a heroin overdose), and became HIV positive after using an infected needle. The only symptom of the virus is chronic fatigue, from which he has suffered for more than 20 years; he has tried every possible cure without success. Today, he gives the impression of a man driven by demons, haggard and groggy with fatigue but unable to slacken his pace. He talks a mile a minute, and rambles from subject to subject like a drunk with verbal diarrhoea - with the difference that most of the time he makes sense.

Kihlgren insists that he is "italianissimo" despite his "barbarous" name and his foreign blood, and superficially it is true: born and raised in Milan, he speaks no Swedish ("a very ugly language, all that gasping"). But his looks are perfectly Scandinavian, and his wealthy, cosmopolitan upbringing and random wanderings have left him with a very un-Italian way of looking at the world, and at Italy in particular.

The insight which changed his life, and which has the potential to change the destiny of swathes of southern Italy, too, came to him 20 years ago, on his first motorbike tour of the country, when he visited Agrigento on the southern coast of Sicily, celebrated for its marvellously intact ancient Greek temples - and notorious for the ugly modern development that now crowds around them.

"I arrived in the Valley of the Temples and I asked myself, how could they be such idiots as to ruin this beautiful heritage?" he says. "The man who builds his house more or less illegally here, next door to the temples, is doing damage to himself. If they preserved the beauty of the area, they could take in guests at €300 per night.

It was an aesthetic judgement - revulsion from the insensate ugliness that modern man has thrown up within spitting distance of some of the greatest glories of the ancient world - but framed as an economic insight: if they had followed the dictates of beauty instead of ignoring them, the people of Agrigento could have wound up rich. They could have dug themselves out of their holes, instead of fouling the beauty that the past bequeathed them. It is the same insight that he has brought to the mountains of Abruzzo.

After the excesses of his early twenties (today he is 43), Kihlgren found some equilibrium in Pescara, on Abruzzo's Adriatic coast. He moved into a large, plain house on land owned by his family and made an approximation of settling down. He began collecting stray dogs, of which he now has more than 15, and found what he calls the love of his life, a bulldog called Clementina, with whom he shared his bed; she has been replaced, since her death, by two more, Melone and Hollypop. Kihlgren has had plenty of human girlfriends, too, but the compulsory presence in his bed of not one but two large, flatulent dogs makes the arrival of a Mrs Kihlgren vanishingly unlikely. And anyway, bulldogs aside, there really is no room for another passion in his life.

The mountainous region of Abruzzo has always been a poor, marginal territory compared with its lower-lying neighbours, subsistence farming allowing for little in the way of architectural flourishes. But, as the finely worked details of its arches, windows, cornices and courtyards suggest, Santo Stefano, east of the capital, L'Aquila, was different.

In the Middle Ages, it was part of the Barony of Carapelle, a large estate in the hands of Florence's ruling Medici family. As a fuelling stop for the cross-country wool trade, there had been a settlement here since pre-Roman times: as late as the 18th century, remains of the ancient settlement, Sextantio, were still in evidence, though later all the stones were filched for new homes. And as the Europe-wide demand for wool continued to grow, the town prospered and grew in size and sophistication - while always retaining, at 1,250 metres above sea level and 150km distant from Rome, the sense of being somehow mysterious, far away from the teeming cities of Rome and Florence, with its own mountain wisdom and mountain cults, not under the thumb of the Pope.

Then the Italian wool trade went into a steep decline, crippled by competition from abroad, and Santo Stefano - too high up to branch out into other forms of agriculture - lost its raison d'ĂȘtre, and, as a consequence, its population, too.

The good fortune of the town was that its emigrating citizens did not stop at Belgium or the Ruhr Valley, but crossed the Atlantic in search of work. Santo Stefano was thus spared the fringe of pseudo-Tyrolean villas and other inanities which ruin the look of towns whose residents wandered no further than Italy's back door in search of work, then came home when they had made their money.

I first visited Santo Stefano on 10 April 2009, four days after last year's disastrous earthquake (the epicentre of which had been near L'Aquila). Vittorio Sgarbi, the volcanic Italian art critic and trouble-maker, urged me to go and see how they had coped with the seismic waves. I was greatly impressed: all the houses in the albergo diffuso had been invisibly reinforced in the course of reconstruction and had suffered no harm. The only damage was a hairline crack in the wall of one bathroom.

The rest of the town was a different matter. A cement viewing platform inserted at the top of the medieval tower decades before Kihlgren's arrival caused the tower to tumble to the ground, and many other houses were badly damaged. Today, one year on, scaffolding buttresses many of the town's high walls, wooden frames prop up ancient arches, and all that remains of the medieval tower is a scaffolding phantom of the original structure. The town's only through-road was closed until a few weeks ago.

Despite the mess left by the quake, Kihlgren's faith in his project is unshaken. The morning after I arrived, he and his colleagues Innocenzo and Antonio were hard at work on the project's next phase, which involves turning more of the ancient stone cottages into exquisitely desirable holiday homes. The challenge is to do this without sacrificing their souls - in fact, reassembling or reinventing the houses' souls along the way. It is painstaking work in which serendipity plays a large part. But slowly, through trial and error, they are getting close.

Antonio and a village lad stagger in with an old oak door they have unearthed. "Feel the weight of it," says Antonio. It weighs a ton; I can barely get it off the ground. "Molto spartana," ("Very spartan") he says approvingly, and shows me how the door's rough-hewn back reveals that its timbers were hacked directly from a tree trunk. This will do for the door of a closet in the house. '

"Look at this plaster," says Kihlgren fondly from the other side of the room, peering at the wall, which is black with age and smoke and crazed with tiny cracks. Ripe, you would assume, for the plasterer's trowel and a few coats of emulsion - but you would be wrong. This is the surface which emerged after all the decorators' improvements of the past decades had been scraped away, and like the oak door, it breathes the village's medieval life of hardship and simple, frugal beauty - in a place where the Middle Ages finished, Kihlgren claims, only after the Second World War.

Sextantio was a labour of love - but also of keen commercial intelligence. Kihlgren the cosmopolitan saw, as his compatriots failed to, that what foreign visitors love about Tuscany besides its villas, weather and food, is that it is unspoiled - its beauty, at best, is not fatally compromised by the haphazard sprouting of modern development. But in Abruzzo, inedificabilita - the principle that nothing new will be built - is one it has taken him immense effort to get accepted.

"This region was the theatre of a history which finished with emigration and abandonment," Kihlgren says. "That was the end of these towns, but also the reason why they remained as they were, with their values and their uncontaminated relationship with the countryside. And I don't think it's utopian of me to believe that these values can become the real engine of the economy here."

The media, especially the international media, reported the Sextantio project and enthusiasm, and Italy-lovers began to pour in. The value of local property soared, and a revival in local crafts got under way as Kihlgren bent over backwards to source everything, from the restaurant's recipes and food supplies to the handwoven bedspreads in the guest-rooms, to craftspeople in and around the town.

His effort was unprecedented because the heritage of places such as Santo Stefano, he says, has never been given much respect within Italy. "The bourgeoisie was committed to spreading what in Italy represented culture - Rome and nothing else. Only towns which were deliberately planned were accorded respect; spontaneously created towns such as Santo Stefano, which came into being with no deliberate plan and which find their greatest expression in the relationship between town and countryside, these were never considered important.

"I know perfectly well how carefully we preserve the statues of Canova, paintings, important palaces and so on. But the significance of these villages, whose real added value is that they have a relationship with the countryside, has always been dismissed." And this blindness to their beauty, together with the laxity of local planning regulation, leads to their casual destruction. "Why on earth," Kihlgren raves, "when they have the potential to be tourist destinations, when there is absolutely no need to build anything new for industry or for any other purpose, do they continue to build in these places - and always in reinforced concrete?"

Sextantio faced down last year's earthquake, but the timing was atrocious for Kihlgren. Coupled with the economic crisis that arrived six months later, it has given his project the biggest challenge of its young life. Kihlgren's company has bought six other villages which are to receive the Santo Stefano treatment, and already a similar project is up and running in the caves of the city of Matera in Basilicata, which has proved a big hit. But because of the earthquake, Santo Stefano itself, which was intended to be the locomotive of the whole enterprise, is stuck in the tracks.

Before the earthquake, Kihlgren and his team had prepared six abandoned houses for sale; six more are under preparation now. But since the disaster, the selling market is at a standstill. With the town still full of scaffolding and visible damage from the earthquake, no one is in a mood to invest - especially when a small, diligently restructured cottage in the town comes with an asking price of more than €200,000.

The hotel, too, is still suffering from the post-earthquake blight. "The earthquake showed we are doing the right thing in that we sustained no damage," says Maurizio Guccione, Sextantio's managing director, in his office in Kihlgren's Pescara headquarters, "but tourists haven't started coming back to Abruzzo, and that includes Santo Stefano." As the road into the town had been impassable, the hotel has seen no visitors at all since the disaster. The only exception was a wedding last June - two Irish families who "were determined to come, despite the road problem".

Now that the road is open again, the hotel is coming back to life: six weddings are booked and they have 15 reservations for conferences. "But selling houses remains a problem," says Guccione. "Buying a house in a village that has been so visibly damaged is embarrassing. It's a matter of waiting until the memory of earthquake passes for the market to recover."

But Kihlgren is in no mood to wait - and as the sober men he has placed in charge of Sextantio will not put the company's existence on the line, he has gone ahead without them.

In addition to the six towns already purchased, he has bought three more out of his own pocket, with which he intends to show the world where the Santo Stefano idea is headed. To help him, he has enlisted the co-operation of the top British architect David Chipperfield. They are planning "a series of prototypes" in Chipperfield's words; after that, it's the wide world. "All I need is 30 towns," Kihlgren says. "Thirty towns from Calabria to Abruzzo and we can save the south of Italy."

"When I first turned up in Santo Stefano, they thought I was a simpleton," he says. "When I bought the houses, they thought I was an idiot." Even today, with Sextantio's success an acknowledged fact, his manic manner makes him seem more raving fantasist than hard-headed businessman. And the fact is that the two elements in his character are thoroughly intermixed. But there is no doubt that he is a visionary. "He is an irrepressible force, uncontaminated, motivated by ideas," says Chipperfield. "He has levels of naivety that I find convincing. His approach is charming. And it seems to us to have a large relevance, not only to how to deal with old villages but with the whole Italian system, which always works up huge, overarching systems but then achieves nothing. I'm not just interested in his approach to building, but also his way of operating within the culture."

Kihlgren takes us to one of the three new towns he has bought. It is on the other side of the Gran Sasso from Santo Stefano, closer to Pescara, and only a few minutes from the Rome-Pescara autostrada. We drive through a decaying, nondescript village called Musellaro, through a discouraging small suburb of undistinguished modern homes, then follow our leader down a narrow track by the side of a cliff.

Turning a corner, where the modern houses end, we see what he saw: climbing steeply down the overgrown hillside, towards a river, is a village of stone houses. Totally abandoned many decades ago, most of them are without roofs, many missing one or more walls. But they hang together as a village unit, and all confront a stupendous view of the huge, distant form, the vast, slumbering bulldog of Mount Maiella.

Italian Match-Fixing Scandal Surfaces

ROME (AP) - Italian Football Federation officials are awaiting developments in a criminal court case in Naples as they consider opening a new investigation into the match-fixing scandal that rocked the national sport four years ago.

For several days, Italian media have printed alleged phone-tap conversations linking Inter Milan and other clubs to the scandal.

Inter was awarded the 2006 Serie A title after Juventus was stripped of the honor and relegated to Serie B due to its role in the scandal.

The Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Wednesday that Italian Football Federation president Giancarlo Abete and federation prosecutor Stefano Palazzi met on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

It's unclear, however, if the statute of limitations in the case has expired.

The new phone taps came to light as part of the defense of former Juventus executive Luciano Moggi in the Naples case, with Moggi arguing that all the teams were in contact with refereeing officials.

In the purported conversations -- as printed in the Gazzetta -- Inter president Massimo Moratti is heard talking with referee selector Paolo Bergamo about the match officials for an Italian Cup game that Inter went on to win 3-1 over Bologna in January 2005.

Moratti has rejected the new allegations as "ridiculous and shameful," while Bergamo maintains that he "always spoke regularly with all the club presidents."

Juventus issued a statement Wednesday, saying it was watching the Naples case closely and it "expects that the organs of justice will secure equal treatment for all."

Another former Juventus executive, Antonio Giraudo, already has received a three-year sentence from the Naples court on charges of criminal association aimed at committing sports fraud.

Moggi and Giraudo were banned from football for five years by a sports court for influencing the outcome of matches. They deny wrongdoing.

Juventus was stripped of its 2005 and '06 Serie A titles and relegated to the second division with a nine-point penalty. It immediately won promotion back to Serie A.

The scandal was the biggest corruption case in the history of Italian football. Besides Juventus, three other big clubs -- AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina -- were penalized, as were Reggina and Arezzo. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Naples-area mafia boss nabbed

Apr 15, 2010

ROME - POLICE on Wednesday arrested the boss of the Naples-area Camorra mafia, Nicola Panaro, considered one of Italy's 30 most dangerous fugitives, the ANSA news agency reported.

The 41-year-old head of the most powerful Camorra clan the Casalesi had been on the run for seven years, ANSA said.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni hailed the arrest as 'another extraordinary success by the state against the Camorra.' Late last month police arrested 12 alleged members of the Casalesi clan including the father and brother of Michele Zagaria, a boss who has been on the run for 15 years.

Last week authorities seized land and buildings worth more than 700 million euros ($1.3 billion) from suspected Camorra mafia members in what Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called the biggest operation of its kind.

The Camorra are one of Italy's four organised crime syndicates. -- AFP

Berlusconi Criticizes Gomorrah, Says it is "Promotional Support" for Mafia

Nicola Orichuia

Posted: April 18, 2010 02:59 PM

Every morning, just before opening the dozens of Italian news websites I look at each day, I prepare myself mentally to some other embarrassing statement by Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But what I read last week wasn't embarrassing. It was shocking and repulsive.

During a press conference on the Italian government's efforts to fight the mafia, Berlusconi started criticizing the "promotional support" that certain TV series or literature, such as Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, give to the mafia.

First of all, let me say that the statement is simply ridiculous. It's equivalent to saying that Nazism is famous because Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel wrote about it.

I don't know if Berlusconi ever read the book Gomorrah, but his statements tell me he hasn't.

Gomorrah is a powerful, courageous and journalistically impeccable piece of non-fiction, which brilliantly exposes facts, events, court rulings and arrests involving members of the Camorra, the organized crime prevalent in the southern Campania region.

I find Berlusconi's statement shocking because he implies that reading about the mafia is counter-productive. Maybe Berlusconi also implies that reading in general is counter-productive. Reading gives people knowledge. The nazis burned books because it was not tolerable to have an alternative truth to the one pronounced by the regime.

In modern-day regimes, in which a few powerful people continue to rape their country's democratic constitution, books aren't being burnt. It isn't necessary. All you need is a TV channel, a lot of money and a number of dumb shows to keep the mind occupied until it becomes total mush and people stop thinking.

Berlusconi has done just that. In the 1980s he introduced Italians to all sorts of TV-trash through his three private channels (one of which has been ruled illegal and unconstitutional) and now is happily joining forces with the racist and xenophobe Lega Nord party to change Italy's constitution and the delicate balance of powers between president, government and parliament.

I also find Berlusconi's criticism of Gomorrah repulsive.

It is repulsive in that Berlusconi doesn't mention that that book has cost its author his freedom because the Camorra clans surrounding Naples have set out to kill him.

Berlusconi willingly omits that Roberto Saviano is under 24/7 police protection and in hiding ever since the book was published. By telling the truth about Campania's organized crime, Saviano has paid a high price and should be considered a hero. Criticizing him, his book or just the idea of writing a book on mafia means the government does not like people like Saviano going around telling the truth.

I find it impossible to justify Berlusconi's point of view. Essentially, what he's saying is that fighting organized crime should be a job left solely to the government and police forces. Literature is not contemplated in his plans to fight mafia.

What Berlusconi doesn't understand, or maybe he's just pretending to not understand, is that the only way to fight mafia efficiently is to let people know about it, about how its mechanisms work, about how complicated and well organized the criminal groups are and how these groups influence the lives of so many people who might not want anything to do with mafia, but find themselves living next door to it.

Arresting hundreds or thousands of members of the Mafia, of the Camorra, of the 'Ndrangheta, of the Sacra Corona Unita, will do no good if it is not sided by a serious and efficient educational campaign. People can always be replaced.

If I were Berlusconi, I would praise Saviano and his efforts to illuminate the situation and would make it a mandatory book to read in all of Italy, because the book involves the entire nation. It is such a tragic and true story that I'm sure only good can come out of it when younger generations grow up with the knowledge of what's happening to their brothers and sisters in and around Naples