A Dummy’s Guide to Voting in Como’s Local Election

Palazzo Cernezzi

Palazzo Cernezzi – Como’s Town Hall

The first round of voting in Como’s local administrative elections is on Sunday June 11th. The vote in Como and in a number of other provincial councils is for the mayor and for the team of councillors listed under the banner of each party or group. If no clear winner for mayor emerges on June 11th, a second round of voting will be held on Sunday June 25th. Recent polls suggest a close result and if so, this will be the case.

EU citizens resident in Como have the right to vote in these elections as explained in my recent article, but the deadline for registration is now well passed. Here is my attempt to offer a minimum explanation of the process and background to these elections – intended both for those wishing to vote and for anyone looking for some electoral demystification.

Palazzo Cernezzi 4

Palazzo Cernezzi

The actual vote is in two parts. The first is to select your preference for mayor. The second is to select which candidate in each party list you prefer. The two selections are linked in that each mayoral candidate has his or her personal list of councillor candidates. However two of the mayoral candidates are associated with more than one group or list in that they represent coalitions. In the case of coalitions, there are separate lists of councillor candidates for each group/party within the coalition.

The first part of voting for the mayoral candidate is simple in that you just put a cross through the party/group symbol of your preferred candidate. In the case of the two candidates representing coalitions, before you place your cross through the symbol of one of the parties in the coalition you must consider from which party list you wish to select your councillor candidate. So let’s take mayoral candidate Maurizio Traglio as an example. He is the mayoral candidate for the centre left coalition so his name is associated with each of the parties in that coalition,  namely Svolta Civica per Como, Ecologisti, Rete Civiche and finally the Partito Democratico. A cross through any of those parties’ symbols will be a vote for Traglio but if you want to select a councillor candidate from the list of Svolta, you must select the Svolta symbol and not one of the other three parties in the coalition.

vote example

The second part is less straightforward in that you need to go to the polling station knowing the name of your preferred councillor candidates. Next to each party/group symbol is space to write in the name (surname only) of your preferred candidate. Actually there are two spaces since you can also specify a second candidate if they are a different sex from your first selection.

 

I am afraid I have no idea how the votes are subsequently counted and apportioned but no votes are counted if they contain any other writing on the form beyond the cross to select the mayor and the names of two possible councillors. I assume the names must also be spelled correctly to count as a valid vote.

The two front runners in the elections polls are the two coalition candidates with Maurizio Traglio for the Centre Left and Mario Landriscina for the Centre Right (Lega Nord, Fratelli d’Italia and Forza Italia). The current administration is centre left, apparently the first centre left administration in Como since the war. There were fears that local scandals over the ‘paratie’ (see Liberating the Lakefront for info) and the defunct ‘Ticosa’ site might disadvantage the centre left but the competition seems evenly balanced at the moment.

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The ‘Ticosa’ silk printing and dyeing factory closed in 1982

The other candidates for mayor include Francesco Scopelliti (Como Futura and Giovane Como), Alessandro Rapinese for Rapinese Sindaco, Fabio Aleotti for the Movimento 5 Stelle, Celeste Grossi for La Prossima Como, and Bruno Magatti for Civitas. The easiest way to access the manifestos for each of these candidates is via the Como Comune website .

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Bruno Magatti’s shopfront publicity

Apart from the stalls set up under the plastic gazebos (or even the temporary offices set up for some mayoral candidates) the best source of information on the concerns of Como’s citizens and the attitudes of the candidates has been presented in the local press or through the discussions and debates set up in the Teatro Sociale. From this it appears that the greatest concerns are about the future of tourism, parking and bureaucracy!

It is interesting to note that, in spite of Como being a tourist destination since the eighteenth century, the city is still not totally convinced as to whether its future wealth lies primarily there or in industry.

Funicolare

The funicular to Brunate with Como’s lakefront in the background

What complicates the modern day mindset is perhaps the recent memory of Como’s glorious years as a centre for silk manufacture – a period that in reality only lasted about 100 years from the 1860s to 1960s. Silk dyeing, printing and finishing are still present but the sight of the rotting Ticosa factory is itself sufficient a symbol of Como’s change in fortunes. The same uncertainty about a future destiny marks the debate over parking with resistance from some quarters to the extension of parking restrictions and vehicle access in the centre. Again, traffic free streets favour tourism although some local shopkeepers don’t seem to appreciate the economic value that unrestricted pedestrian access brings to the city centre.

Bureaucracy in Italy has been a complaint for so many years – its roots may have lain in Napoleonic administrative habits evolving through further degenerative entrenchment during the prolonged fascist regime. In Como we look across the border to Ticino in the Swiss Federation and see how the contrasting administration there is much more business-friendly. Unfortunately bureaucratic habits stem from legal and political complexities, reinforced through lack of investment in and resistance to technological innovation which in turn may be the result of how the bureaucratic mindset has evolved. I am not sure that local administrations can  do much about this by themselves but at least they can and should orientate the city to where its future sustainable economic and social interests lie. That is worth voting for.

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Elegance at Villa D’Este

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Bugatti

Today is the start of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. This is an annual gathering of vintage cars and motorbikes along with their owners and admirers. In most previous years this event has mainly taken place within the grounds of Cernobbio’s renowned luxurious hotel – the Villa D’Este, voted by Forbes in 2009 as the best hotel in Europe! This exclusive  – literally pertaining to exclusion – location on the lakefront offers an opportunity for wealthy owners and admirers to lavish mutual yet discrete appreciation on these elegant survivors from a former era.

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Villa D’Este, its park and floating swimming pool

Villa D’Este was built in the renaissance style by Pellegrino Tibaldi from 1565 to 1570 for Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio. Following a number of changes of owners and uses, it became in 1815 the home of Caroline of Brunswick, the separated wife of UK’s King George IV. It was converted into a hotel in 1873. Apart from the Concorso D’Eleganza, the hotel also hosts the annual Ambrosetti Forum – an international conference for politicians, financiers and business leaders.  Alfred Hitchcock was particularly fond of this hotel returning most years for a holiday here and on the lake where he proposed to his wife. More recent celebrity visitors include the ubiquitous George Clooney whose lakeside home was just along the water in Laglio.

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BMW Coupe

villa erba

Villa Erba

In the past, the locals have been allowed a very partial participation by viewing a form of car catwalk as they are paraded on the last day of the weekend through Cernobbio from the hotel to Villa Erba – the neighbouring lakeside villa that was once the summer home of neo-realist film director Luchino Visconti . Not so this year since the public are now given access throughout all three days of the Concorso, not however to roam willy-nilly through Villa D’Este, but to participate in a series of activities at the nearby Villa Erba.

indianAn additional factor this year is the biennial auction of up to 70 vintage cars by Sothebys. These cars (and some vintage motorbikes) are all on view in the gardens of Villa Erba on Friday. Entry on this first day is free. The auction takes place on Saturday evening and so the cars are also on view throughout that day alongside an exhibition of vintage motorbikes and a special feature on vintage BMW coupes in the main pavilion. There is an entrance fee on Saturday (€10) and Sunday (€16) although tickets do cost less if purchased online.

bmws

BMW sponsors the Concorso d’Eleganza

This ‘democratisation’ of the Concorso may be due to its growing popularity or to the marketing policies of its primary sponsor – BMW – whose presence over the weekend is marked by an endless shuttle of large, black BMWs to and from Como and Cernobbio or to and from Villa D’Este and Villa Erba. It is odd that the vintage cars mainly come from an era when bodywork was in pastel or bright shades whilst the current masters of the universe prefer big and sombre black.

Sunday is the day when judges make a variety awards and then all cars and motorbikes take part in a pageant’s procession before the grandstand set up in the gardens of Villa Erba.

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Talbot

The Concorso D’Eleganza was first set up in 1928 at the Villa D’Este. It has not been held consistently since then due to interruptions during the second world war after which it was again suspended in 1948. This was due to the scandal of that year when the Countess Pia Bellentani shot her philandering lover, silk industrialist Carlo Sacchi, at the end of a fashion show held at the hotel. She had borrowed her husband’s revolver for the murder hoping also to kill herself immediately after. However there was only a single bullet in the chamber. She was subsequently committed to a mental asylum. The annual Concorso was not resumed until 1995 under the sponsorship of the men in big, black cars.

riva collage

The cars are undeniably beautiful with some immensely stylish examples from Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Porsche and even BMW! For me, the top prize in the cars listed for auction must go to the stunning Talbot taking pride of place at the end of the pavilion and near to the equally stunning Riva motorboat. It is also true to say that the Villa Erba forms a great backdrop for them with its park overlooking the lake.

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Liberating the Lakefront – Como Recovers Its Greatest Asset

lakefront view

View from the Como lakefront to Cernobbio and Torno

For residents and tourists alike, Como’s greatest asset must be its magnificent lakefront with its views north to Cernobbio, Moltrasio, Torno and to the summit of Mount Bisbino – so why has access to a large tract of it been out of bounds for the last eight years? The wooden barrier that blocks lakefront access went up in 2008 stretching from the roundabout by the railway station and then beyond the ticket office for the boats and up to the park.

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Bringing down the wooden wall – although this photo shows the storm damage which shortly preceded the renovation work

Now, finally the last section of this wall is coming down and the whole lakefront will be accessible to all. This marks a decisive and positive stage in the long-running local saga/scandal of the so-called ‘paratie’ (barriers).

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Before….

Let’s consider what could possibly have caused such a denial of access to our greatest asset for so long. The answer is unfortunately a sad tale which possibly could only have happened in Italy. Way back in 1990, when money was counted in millions of lire rather than euros, the idea of building up Como’s flood defenses was first mooted. The original plans were for a series of temporary barriers to be deployed when necessary.

lakefront 3

….After, but not yet complete

The costs were modest and the project was due for completion by 1995. What optimism! Soon after this in 1998, the first in a series of ‘variations’ to the original plans were submitted scrapping the temporary options in preference for a permanent structure.  Now there was serious money to be played for with all the ‘tangential’ temptations along the way.

To cut a long story short, the contract was finally awarded in 2007 to Sacaim, a company who had worked on the Venice flood defenses as well as many other large civil engineering projects. Work started in January 2008 with the dark green wooden barrier erected thus obscuring the work in progress and of course, our glorious panoramic view.

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Vistas unseen for eight years are beginning to open up

Unfortunately behind that wooden barrier, Sacaim were constructing a wall twenty-odd metres out from the lakefront that was taking a slither away from our lake. This wall was part of another ‘variation’ requested in 2009. Unfortunately doubts were immediately raised over its legality – after all it is one thing to bank up the existing wall and another entirely to alter the contours of the lakefront.  Progress from then until 2012 was slow and intermittent due to these legal and other complications. Slow progress turned into a total stall on the election of a new mayor in 2012 who demanded the end of the new wall and the re-opening of part of the lakefront.

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Undoing the damage – work is now underway on restoring this section of the  lakefront

Again, the contractual issues around variations went back to the courts where the hive of activity there contrasted with the complete shutdown on the lakefront.  Then in 2016, two local council officials were arrested following a legal inquiry and the regional authority, declaring the local council ineffective, assumed control of the project. That about summarises the negative part of this story – except to say it is far from over since legal responsibilities and payments will most likely be contested in the courts for years to come.

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The ‘La Provincia’ campaign ‘Rivogliamo il nostro lago’ asked people to attach symbolic plastic padlocks to the barriers denying lakeside access.

Now for the positive part – from the moment all work was blocked (2012), the long-suffering Como residents and local businesses started to push back. The association of local businesses known as ‘Amici di Como’ (friends of Como) financed and organised the temporary restoration and opening of the lakeside walk and gardens to the west of the Navigazione Laghi ticket office. These were opened in 2014. Subsequently the Amici di Como have financed the upkeep of these gardens so they have remained open to the public year-round ever since then.

Not content with that, the local newspaper ‘La Provincia’ ran an effective publicity campaign in 2016 called ‘Rivogliamo il nostro lago’ (We want our lake back). This brought the issue of the ‘paratie’ to the attention of the nation as a whole and central government. The campaign was structured in three phases providing prolonged and embarrassing exposure throughout the year. ‘La Provincia’ stoked the fires of revolt again at the start of this year with a further effective campaign getting residents and visitors alike to mark their continuing frustration by attaching  symbolic plastic padlocks to the fences that were depriving them of lakeside access.

lakefront 2

After eight long years, work began this May on reopening this section of the lakefront.

The media campaigns were successful prompting the regional government to provide the funds for cleaning up and reopening the lakefront. This work is now in progress – cobbles are being laid and vistas not seen for eight years are re-appearing. Full access is on target for completion by July, just after the municipal elections.

lakefront 5This story of the ‘paratie’ is indicative of some of the less favourable aspects of Italian civic life but I can identify at least two positive aspects. Firstly, it is at least reassuring to see the state showing some sensitivity to public opinion (and financial common sense) when under pressure from those who finally managed to overcome a marked propensity for patience and political inertia! Secondly, the prolonged denial of public access to the lakefront has emboldened a pair of local swans to make their annual nesting home there. One of the springtime pleasures for local residents has been to see the swan eggs hatch and see their cygnets grow. The swans will however have to move elsewhere now that  —

WE HAVE GOT OUR LAKE BACK!

swan collage

Our lakeside swans now need a new home.

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URGENT: Expat Como residents need to register to vote by May 2nd

Citizens of other EU countries with residency in Italy can vote in municipal elections – the ‘elezioni amministrative’ – but they will need to register to vote.

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Palazzo Cernezzi, Como’s Town Hall

On June 11th this year 1,021 local councils across Italy will be electing new council members and mayors. Citizens of EU countries with residency in Italy can vote in these elections. The three biggest councils in our area going to the polls are Erba, Cantu and Como. The vote in these cities may require a second ballot on June 25th if no clear winners emerge on June 11th.

Other local councils around Lake Como going to the urns are Porlezza, the Alta Valle Intelvi, San Bartolomeo Val Cavargna, Gera Lario, Brienno and Blessagno. The following councils are also voting elsewhere within Como Province: Appiano Gentile, Barni, Beregazzo con Figliaro, Campione d’Italia, Guanzate, Orsenigo, Rodero, Rovello Porro and San Fermo della Battaglia (which now includes Cavallasca).

Palazzo Cernezzi

You will need to be on the ‘Lista Elettorale’ maintained by your local council to ensure you can vote at these elections. The deadline for applying to join this list is 2nd May in Como (May 1st is a holiday so act now!). Procedures may differ from council to council and so it may be possible that you were placed on the electoral list when applying for residency although most of us will have to make a separate application.

Palazzo Cernezzi 1

Apply to the Servizi Elettorali in the old courtyard

In Como the procedure for applying is simple. Apply at the Ufficio Elettorale for a form to complete called ‘Domanda di iscrizione nelle liste elettorali aggiunte di cittadini di uno stato membro dell’Unione Europea‘. Or click on the link to download the form electronically. Once filled in, take it and a photocopy of your passport or identity card to the Ufficio Protocollo who will enter your data and issue you a receipt which, if required, will provide proof that the request was submitted before the deadline.

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Ufficio Protocollo – also in the old courtyard

That’s it so now you just need to have faith that your council will issue you with a ‘Tessera Elettorale’ and subsequently, about two weeks before actual voting day with a ‘Certificato Elettorale’ which will include information on where you are to vote. On voting day itself, take the Certificato and proof of identity (passport or identity card) with you to the voting station.

Como Companion will follow up with more information on the different candidates for mayor of Como subsequently.

Palazzo Cernezzi 3

 

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From Liberation Day to May Day

April 25th was Liberation Day in Italy – a public holiday to honour the signing of the Armistice in Rome 72 years ago. This brought an end to the Nazifascist regime in Northern Italy. It is a day of commemoration strongly promoted by ANPI (the national association of Italian partisans) so as to maintain the memory of the sacrifices made by the partisans and by the even larger numbers of their civilian supporters.

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Wreaths laid at the Memorial to European Resistance in Como as part of the civic ceremonies commemorating Liberation Day

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Pedro – Commander of the ‘Puecher’ platoon of 52nd Garibaldi Brigade of Partisans who captured Mussolini at Musso

And for Como, the significance of this commemoration must always be particularly strong, given the way events turned out in the last few days of the fascist regime. After all, it was the partisan group known as the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi which operated on the western shores of Lake Como who captured Mussolini as he attempted an escape from Italy disguised within a column of retreating German soldiers. Mussolini, his wife Rachele and mistress Claretta Petacci along with many leaders of the fascist puppet-state known as the RSI (or the Republic of Salo) descended on Como on April 25th 1945. (Read the 25th April Liberation Day for more information on how Mussolini met his end and where.)

So clearly Como was not itself liberated on April 25th. Instead it turned out to be hosting the fascist Head of State prior to his attempted flight to safety having left Milan following the breakdown of surrender discussions mediated by Cardinal Schuster. He chose to spend the night at the Prefettura on Via Volta, the representative site of national government still in the hands of the fascists.

His wife Rachele stayed instead further up Via Volta at the Villa Mantero which had been requisitioned for her use. On the 26th Mussolini joined up with Claretta Petacci and her brother and left alongside his fascist leaders for Menaggio. Rachele instead tried to cross over into Switzerland but was turned back at the border crossing at Chiasso.

So, in spite of the fascist leaders being mostly on the run, it was not until April 28th that Como itself was liberated. The first indication of the dawning of a new era was the arrival early in the morning of an armoured car captured by the partisans and driven around Piazza Cavour in a celebratory lap of honour. This heralded the later arrival of the American allied army as it came up from Milan. Piazza Cavour thus became the impromptu setting for celebrations as the citizens and armed partisans began to gather in the open.

Christian Schiefer, a professional photographer from Lugano, had sensed that monumental events were unfolding and so travelled down from Chiasso and caught on film the historic shots reproduced here.

ThMetropole Suissee American allied army immediately took over the Hotel Metropole Suisse as their headquarters. It had only hours before been the local HQ for the German Wehrmacht but the remains of the German army had made their way that day to the border crossing at Chiasso where they were allowed to surrender to the Swiss authorities once all arms were given up.

The Fascist party had also abandoned their headquarters in the Palazzo Terragni, also known as the Casa del Fascio, leaving it free for the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano) to take it on as their HQ.

Casa del Fascio

Palazzo Terragni (Casa del Fascio)

These were just a couple of the monumental changes facing the territory at that time. The partisan brigades including the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi took over policing duties and were free to hunt down ex-fascist leaders and Nazi collaborators until June of that year when their powers were suspended. They and the workers, who had maintained the General Strike from 20th April, were the heroes of the hour.

Aramis and brother

Villa Passalacqua, Moltrasio 30th May 1945 – ‘Eros’ (Angelo Nardi) and ‘Aramis’ (Amos Santi), 2 partisan leaders in the Tomasic platoon of the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi.

During the fascist regime, the celebration of May Day as the day of international labour had been suspended. So 1st May 1945, just three days after the liberation of Como, provided the first major opportunity for a communal celebration of liberty and labour. Thus it was only fitting as to who should head the parade that year – the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi.

may day 1945 milan

May Day 1945 – Milan

Further sources of information about the partisans, the last days of the fascist regime and the liberation of Como are available from:

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Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana

This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana

 

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Don’t Mention the Mafia!

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Artwork from Liceo Artistico Melotti, Lomazzo

The title ‘Don’t mention the Mafia!’ takes inspiration from the episode in Fawlty Towers when Basil admonishes his staff to not mention the war to his German guests. For those not brought up on UK comedy from the 1970’s, my point is that this topic raises such a set of sensibilities such that foreigners touch upon it at their own risk – particularly the issue of mafia presence in the north! In any case, you might well ask why raise the subject at all since it’s unlikely any of this impinges on any of our lives (at least not directly) and certainly does not compromise the natural beauty of our area and the manifestly innocent enjoyment of it by visitors and residents alike. However I do hope to show that, at least once in a while, we should consider this awkward topic.

The main evidence of a mafia presence in Lombardy comes from three investigations initiated by the DDA (Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia) under the Procura of Milan and led by the indefatigable antimafia magistrate Ilda Boccassini.

Ilda Boccassini

Ilda Boccassini

Ilda Boccassini has perhaps the broadest experience within the Italian judicial system in investigating corruption and mafia activities. She worked in Milan on Mani Pulite in the 90s, transferred to Caltanisetta to investigate the Falcone-Borsellino assassinations, returned to Milan to quash the rebirth of the Red Brigades and concurrently to identify the presence of the mafia in Lombardy. More recently she has been leading the investigations into the alleged crimes of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The facts arising from the three DDA investigations (named Infinito, Metastasi and Insubria) do confirm the presence of the Mafia in the north involving primarily the Calabrian form of organised crime known as the ‘ndrangheta. The ‘Infinito’ inquiry was launched in 2003. It led to the arrest of 200 people in Milan and Calabria with both trials and investigations still ongoing. The ‘Metastasi’ investigation focused on the presence of the mafia in Lecco and the activities of old-style mafia boss Franco Covo Trovato.

franco trovato

Franco Covo Trovato

The ‘Insubria’ inquiry was initiated in 2012 and focused on ‘ndrangheta activity in three local councils, including two within the province of Como. These are Fino Mornasco and Cermenate, located halfway between Como and Milan. 35 arrests were made and prison sentences totalling 162 years have been handed out to ex-town councillors  and Calabrian or local business men. Fino Mornasco was described by magistrates in 2014 as ‘one of the most shining examples of a mafia controlled local council in Northern Italy’.

 

insubria

Two of the ‘ndrangheta members sentenced following the Insubria investigation

Should we be concerned by this? Or to be blunt, do we as foreign residents or visitors need to know about it? In one sense, no – because the activities of organised crime are almost invisible to the great majority living here and totally so to those visiting temporarily. Yet there are victims, with 400 incidents of intimidation in the Province of Como initiated by organised crime between 2008 and 2014 according to data gathered by the DDA. Additionally the long term effects of corruption debilitate the local economy with damage to both the environment and the fabric of towns and cities. This is why once in a while, and maybe particularly on the days set aside to remember and honour the victims of the Mafia, even we foreigners should be excused the use of the M word – always in the spirit of sympathy for the victims and to give moral support for those investigating and bringing mafia criminals to justice.

 

eyes and mouth

The tape hides the mouth because the mafia do not speak. It covers the eyes because the mafia get what they want without looking their victims in the face. Art by Rebecca from the Liceo Melotti.

21st March, the first day of spring, has now been designated an anniversary day for remembering the innocent victims of the Mafia. Here in Como, the pupils from the Liceo Artistico Melotti from Lomazzo  – a town close to both Fino Mornasco and Cermenate – staged an exhibition of art in the courtyard of Como’s Town Hall, Palazzo Cernezzi, as part of a school project entitled ‘Against the Mafia’. Their project was part of a series of activities organised by the ‘Movimento delle Agende Rosse’. The exhibition has done a tour of town councils in the Province of Como and will end up at the house of Paolo Borsellino’s son on the anniversary of his father’s  assassination in Palermo on the 19th July 1992. The artwork by the students illustrates many aspects of the character and impact of organised crime and stands as a visual testimony to why we should publicise and challenge its presence. Certainly the assassinations of magistrates Falcone and Borsellino in 1992 were met with mass revulsion and popular resistance to what were audacious challenges to state authority. Since then, the mafia has avoided such provocative violent acts and, for those seeking to operate in the north, have followed a low key strategy of  gaining control in certain industrial sectors through the corruption of small town officials, hence their presence in Fino Mornasco.

 

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Franco Trovato and gang members facing arrest and sentencing

The subject of the Metastasi investigation was the old-style ‘ndrangheta boss, Franco Covo Trovato, Calabrian in origin but resident in Lecco, Como’s lakeside sister city. He was arrested in September 1992 hiding out in his town centre headquarters – the Wall Street Pizzeria in Via Belfiore. He owned and used the pizzeria as his centre of operations from where he organised his empire of drug trafficking and money laundering. He met here with his henchmen giving out orders for the physical intimidation and assassination of his victims. He is now serving three life sentences and his property, including the pizzeria, has been seized by the state. Now, after a prolonged legal battle, the state has finally arranged for the sale of the pizzeria which has just now re-opened as the Pizzeria Fiore with a formal ceremony on 21st March (the day set aside for remembering the innocent victims of the Mafia). The opening ceremony that featured Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni slicing the pizza, also included students reading out the names of the tens of local victims of Trovato’s criminal regime.

wall street seized

Sequestering of mafia property is proving successful in the fight against crime

Whilst organised crime is still very involved in drug trafficking, they try to invest its profits into legally established businesses operating primarily in construction and refuse management. They then seek commercial advantage by corrupting those local officials involved in the commissioning of projects or selection of suppliers. Although Milan’s recent Expo 2015 offered plenty of opportunities for this (a number of cases are now going through the courts), the focus has tended to switch to smaller local councils in and around the Milan hinterland – just like our own Fino Mornasco and Cermenate. It seems easier to forge corrupt relationships and more easily influence outcomes within these smaller public entities.

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‘Contaminati’ by Miriam, Liceo Melotti. The thousand mafia eyes, whilst appearing colourful and friendly are actually observing and controlling us.

So who are the modern day victims of the mafia, assuming that the Trovato style of ill-disguised bullying has become a thing of the past? The DDA figures of 400 cases of mafia-led intimidation in the Province of Como can be broken down as follows: 270 cases involved malicious fire damage to property, 43 were non-mortal gun attacks, 19 were cases of objects thrown against property, 17 cases of damage to cars, 16 were threats over the phone and one case involved a murdered pet. Most of the victims of these incidents were business owners. 37 were owners of earth-moving companies, 15 were bar or night club owners, 13 were building companies, 12 were owners of service businesses and 5 owned garbage collection businesses. However there were some professional victims as well.

One aspect of the northern-style mafia which cannot be ignored is that some small to medium-sized businesses actively seek out a connection with an ‘ndrangheta family. The reason is that a mafia connection could help when seeking to persuade an unwilling client to pay an outstanding bill. There are unfortunately too many brazen individuals who treat paying a bill as a voluntary activity in the knowledge that to seek redress through the courts could take years and will most likely cost you more than you manage to recover. Thus the attraction of an extra-legal persuasion, or as the Italian expression goes  – ‘to have your shoulders covered’. Then there is always the chance that your business may itself profit from whatever projects the mafia manage to win.

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‘The Monster’ by Samuele Liceo Melotti.

 

The subject of organised crime is a depressing one presenting a shameful side to some parts of the local business culture. However if we avoid the subject we then fail to recognise those who bravely seek to combat it. Truly the efforts of those ‘against the mafia’ shine out against the grey background of the morally compromised. Magistrates such as Ilda Boccassini demonstrate a courage and fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend. The students reading out the list of mafia victims at the rebirth of the Pizzeria Fiore are reclaiming an honest future for this enterprise that will obliterate a landmark of shame. The schoolchildren of the Liceo Artistico in Lomazzo are helping to keep the example of Falcone and Borsellino alive in all our minds, as well as giving us their interpretation of the true present-day nature of this criminal organisation.

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From the ‘Against the Mafia’ exhibition by pupils from the Liceo Artistico Statale ‘F. Melotti’, Lomazzo

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Como to Torno Revisited

This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, Como to Torno Revisited

 

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Uncover Your Karma in Como

Ayurveda, Yoga, meditation, mindfulness and more – welcome to the world of wellness for English-speakers here in Como. As from 1st April there will be a series of monthly pop-up wellness weekends – with totally flexible levels of participation – held in Como and led in English by a series of specialist facilitators in a range of wellness disciplines. This marvelous initiative is the brainchild of Miriam O’Reilly – the organiser of these ‘Free Your Mind’ weekends. Her ultimate vision is no less than to see Como as one of the primary European hubs for wellness facilities and events. For those of you already fully familiar with the world of wellness, why not check out the Free Your Mind website and sign up for as many or as few sessions as you wish whilst places are still available.

wellness flyer cover

‘Free Your Mind’ flyer

I recently met up with Miriam at Borgo35 – the location of her ‘Free Your Mind’ wellness weekends. I was fascinated to understand more about wellness in general as well as to hear what she has lined up for English-speaking residents and visitors to Como.

miriam

Miriam O’Reilly – organiser of Free Your Mind

Miriam has been living in Como for the last five years and, from those first lonely weeks, has come to feel settled and happily integrated within the local and ex-pat community. Over that time she has developed her own knowledge and practice of wellness, along with a mission to widen wellness awareness and bring like-minded people together in a community of interest. I soon began to appreciate that if Miriam, on first arriving from Ireland, initially faced isolation, she would have very quickly set about taking steps to resolve it with the same optimistic spirit evident now in how she is bringing together the varied wellness resources for her ‘Free Your Mind’ weekends.

With my almost total ignorance of wellness beyond its obvious association with health, I was keen to hear how Miriam would explain it for me. Slightly to my surprise she quickly came back with a succinct definition namely that ‘wellness is the process of seeking out and cultivating the tools that help you to feel balanced in your mind and body.’ However I did sense that Miriam would henceforth avoid any further definitive statements due to her emphasising how both the ends and the means of wellness are a matter of personal preference. She described it as a form of self-discovery arrived at through introspection aided by whatever methods (Miriam referred to tools) best suited to each individual. And this is why she aims through the ‘Free your Mind’ sessions to introduce her participants to a variety of these tools (such as Ayurveda massage, yoga or other forms of meditation) so each of us can uncover which individual or combination of tools best help us along our journey.

wellness lake 1

Karma on Lake Como

So what would be the end goal of this esplorative journey? Why set out in the first place? Again, Miriam had no prescriptive answer to this but illustrated a typical preferred outcome with the simile of a ship’s captain steering his or her vessel through both calm and stormy waters with the same equanimity – in other words, being able to deal with all that life throws at you, whether hard, easy, challenging or dull, with flexibility, calmness and confidence.

wellness image 1Miriam’s own experience is perhaps the best way of illustrating one reason why someone would want to set out towards wellness. I found her approachable, open-minded, and plausible – in short, easy to talk to and to get on with. She is clearly an energetic person but fortunately without any of that stress-inducing aura exuded by so many high-energy individuals ( I am thinking of the Gordon Ramsay syndrome here). So I could readily appreciate how she has managed demanding roles in marketing and advertising within retail while wanting to seek ways of avoiding the adrenalin highs and exhausted lows that go with this territory. For her, the path taken to manage this excess stress was through yoga. She found she could clear her mind through yoga’s predominantly physical focus towards meditation and that it was this that best helped her when starting out.

wellness facilitators

Free Your Mind facilitators

But Miriam is well aware that alternative methods may better suit other people, hence her concept of bringing together various forms of wellness practice so that participants can try out as many as they wish, at one time and in one place. She has brought together a team of English-speaking specialist experts who normally practice in the Varese-Como-Milan area, to staff the wellness weekends. Their combined presence at Como represents a unique mass of experience and expertise. A glance at their biographies and qualifications outlined on the Free Your Mind website will go to show what valuable resources Miriam has been able to pool together, with all facilitators holding qualifications in their areas of expertise as well as having international experience.

The weekends are all scheduled to take place at Borgo35, a co-working and conference centre occupying the ex-convent of Santa Caterina on Via Borgo Vico, 35. It is a short walk down from San Giovanni Station or from the old centre, and there is parking nearby if arriving by car. The weekend seminars will have exclusive use of the centre with its full range of facilities ideally suited to running parallel sessions with break out areas, informal meeting zones and an equipped kitchen.

borgo35 convent

Borgo35 Conference Centre

The location is calm, orderly and well equipped with the internal architecture still retaining some of the features from its spiritual past. Quite apart from Miriam’s wellness weekends, Borgo35 is in itself another great concept offering occasional office facilities for home workers, for networking or as a well-equipped location for meetings – but with a lot more soul to it than a standard hotel meeting room. Sabrina and her staff deserve every success running such a useful facility in support of sustainability and the collaborative economy.

I certainly learnt a lot about wellness through this brief meeting with Miriam and came away impressed with her vision for now and the future. She sees Como as an ideal hub where participants from the area and from across Europe could come to experience wellness breaks given the glorious lakeside settings, the specialist expertise as brought together by Miriam, the facilities and of course, the existing tourism infrastructure. For the immediate present, I admire her plan for developing a wellness community here in and around Como made up primarily (but not exclusively) of English-speaking residents and visitors. I know she will do everything possible to nurture and grow that sense of community and so I wish her every success – and urge you to visit the Free Your Mind website to consider what a single session, half day workshop or full immersion wellness weekend might do for you!

borgo35 kitchen

Borgo35’s kitchen and break area

Just as a final reminder, the first of the Free Your Mind monthly weekends is on April 1st and 2nd with additional weekends set for May 6th/7th and June.  If you are looking for more information on Wellness resources in the Varese-Milan-Como area, join the Wellness for English Speakers Facebook group . Some local Bio resources are listed on one of the Come Companion’s posts – see A-Bio–Como. We also hope shortly to begin listing other wellness resources under our Community listings, so watch this space.

And if you do need to hire a co-working or occasional meeting space, do contact Sabrina and staff on +39 031 6873673 or visit their site at www.borgo35.it.

borgo35 sabrina

Sabrina Dell’Oro and Fabio Indovino – staff at Borgo35

Posted in Culture, Events, Food, Lake, People, Uncategorized, Wellness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Jazz Immersion – Com’In Festival

 

comin jazz logoAs from Friday 9th March, ‘Greater’ Como embarks on over a week of full jazz immersion with the launch of the so-called ‘Com’In Jazz’ Festival. This aims no less than to revive Como’s reputation for jazz and musical innovation that apparently thrived in the 80s and 90s. It runs until Wednesday 15th March, but is then immediately followed by its partner festival in Chiasso that runs from Thursday 16th March until Sunday morning.

chiasso JazzBut that is not the only reason why this festival involves ‘greater’ Como since many of the fringe events take place in bars both within the old centre, immediately surrounding it or even out as far as Breccia. Other aspects to this festival that mark it out as imaginative and deserving of every success are the inclusion of marching bands bringing the music out into the streets as in old New Orleans and the workshops for school pupils and other educative sessions intended to spread understanding and appreciation of this vibrant form of music.

Awaiting summer visitors

Como awaits visitors on Viale Geno

So what a great way to welcome in the Spring on this weekend by taking in some live music as many of the local hotels and places of interest  reopen their doors again for the start of the 2107 tourist season. But, as mentioned before, this festival really does intend to involve as many different people as possible ranging from the concerts ‘a pagamento’ at the Teatro Sociale’ with tickets costing about €15 to those concerts with free admission at the Chiostrino di Sant’Eufemia or the Nerolidio Music Factory in Via Sant’Abbondio. Full details of the programme are available at Visit Como.

 

But please note a particularly imaginative idea for extending exposure to jazz beyond the normal scope of concert goers, namely the so-called ‘Aperitivi in Jazz’. This initiative offers more informal jazz sessions in smaller venues located in a variety of city and suburban locations. Check out the map and the listings on Visit Como. What about using this as a way of exploring parts of the city you may never have had a reason to visit before? These sessions run from 19.00 in the evening but a more likely start time is after 21.00.

Map

  1. Nota su Nota, Via Giulini 13 (Sessions for schools)
  2. Be-Bop Cafe, Via Pasquale Paoli 51
  3. Fresco, Viale Lecco 23

    Fresco

    Fresco

  4. Il Gap, Via Sirtori, 12

    Il Gap

     Il Gap

  5. I Giardini di Tava, Via Dottesio 1
  6. Caffe Mazzini, Piazza Mazzini

    Mazzini

    Caffe Mazzini

  7. Ox, Piazza de Gasperi 6

    Ox

    Ox

  8. Cava dei Sapori, Via Guido da Como 2
  9. Bistrot, Villa Geno

    Bistro

    Il Bistrot

  10. Vintage Jazz, Via Olginate 44

    Vintage Jazz

    Vintage Jazz

  11. Al Quaranta 4, Via D’Annunzio 44
  12. Arte Dolce Lyceum, Via Cesare Cantu 36

    Lyceum

    Arte Dolce Lyceum

 

It’s great to see this festival being revived and support for another musical genre being added to Como’s already rich musical calendar.

music festival logosCheck out this range of musical festivals in and around Como on our events page and also get information either from Visit Como or from our own calendar on exact dates, times and locations. Finally, jazz lovers should not overlook the Chiasso Festival that offers three different gigs a night in the Chiasso Cinema Theatre from 16th March Thursday night through to the early hours of Sunday.

 

Posted in Culture, Events, Music, Restaurants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment