Dear Blog Readers — As I made my through the center of Rome down Via del Corso one day after work this week, I came upon this man drawing his version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” on the sidewalk. Since I am a big fan of street performers, I stopped to take a look and snap this photo. See Blog Post on Street Performers “Dancing Through the Economic Crisis in Rome“. As the week went on it occurred to me that perhaps what this street artist was doing has something in common with my work. As a journalist, I find myself often painting a quick, rough picture of something that is happening. No masterpieces for me, just a rendering of an event or a piece of news so that people can recognize it.
Let me take this week as an example, on Wednesday I covered the US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the US ambassador’s residence, Villa Taverna, in Rome. It seems that the meeting, running from lunch-time through dinner, was primarily intended to reassure the Israeli government about the diplomatic negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
The beautiful Villa Taverna with its extensive gardens seems an ideal place to discuss some of the intractable problems in the Middle East — Syria’s civil war, Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iranian nuclear program. (see my blog post on an evening at Villa Taverna “Cocktails, Spike Heels and Skullduggery“.
The journalists covering the event were asked to be at the Villa hours early to go through all the security checks and then sit in the garden and wait. When the hour came, we were escorted to the front door of the Villa where we stood behind a red velvet rope as the Secretary of State emerged from the door to wait for Netanyahu on the cobblestone driveway.
(A little aside here. I grew up in Massachusetts and John Kerry was my Senator for over 20 years. During my lifetime, I have seen him in person, I have seen him on TV and I have seen him in photos, and something was wrong with him, his face was totally different. I told the AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia and AP Television video-journalist Paolo Santalucia that he must have had some serious face-lifting or botox gone awry. My two colleagues thought I was exaggerating. But low and behold, all it took was a brief flit around the internet and I realized that many people have been writing about it and putting up before and after photos. What a shame. Kerry used to have a distinguished, rugged look and now he looks puffed up, swollen and stiff.
Couldn’t Kerry find a less invasive solution to his wrinkles? How about a beard? The first US woman to serve as Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who passed through Rome many times in the late nineties when she was trying to find a diplomatic solution to the war in the former Yugoslavia, told everyone who asked that she simply put a hat on her head when she was having a “bad hair day.”
While I am on the topic, several years back some flakey, fake journalist who managed to be holding a press credential at the Rome Film Festival (film festivals attract flakey, fake journalists who want to get near the stars) asked Richard Gere how did he manage to stay so handsome at his age. With great aplomb Gere responded, “I have a fantastic plastic surgeon in New York, if you want I can give you his number.” Well perhaps Richard Gere could do a favor for US diplomacy and pass that number on to John Kerry.)
Now back to the news event, Kerry stood there Wednesday on the cobblestones waiting and eventually a long row of black cars drove up the avenue and pulled to a stop. Netanyahu jumped out and quickly hugged the Secretary of State.
(Now while I am being catty, I might as well take a shot at Benjamin Netanyahu too. There is something smarmy about that guy. Over the years I have covered events with lots of Israeli leaders: Yitzak Rabin, he was so tough he was almost scary, and he never smiled; Shimon Peres, much softer than Rabin, he always seemed to me sincere, intellectual and open-minded; or how about former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — a woman who always seemed calm, cool, and collected. Netanyahu doesn’t appear to share any of their traits. Perhaps because he came to international prominence by his frequent appearances on CNN during the Gulf War, I get the impression that he is always playing for a TV audience, spouting soundbites to promote his agenda.)
So, the smarmy guy and the botox-ed guy shook hands and headed into the Villa and the catty, disrespectful journalist (me) and the rest of the press corps, scurried around the back to take our position in the living room for the statements.
It is a good thing that I am a mother of three because I am a highly-trained multi-tasker. Anyone who works in TV these days knows that we have to be multi-skilled. I was covering this event with my colleague Paolo Santalucia who was shooting. Paolo is probably one of the most talented, multi-skilled video-journalists around but when you are the shooter, you cannot do much else simultaneously.
We brought with us a machine called a LIVE U which is about the size of a big backpack and has the equivalent of 7 cell phone cards in it. We can turn that LIVE U on, connect it to a server in London (by pushing various buttons) attach it by cable to the camera and then send out our material live. (We don’t use Live Trucks)
Our LIVE-U was placed on the ground outside the living room where the leaders were to make their statements, we had already connected to London and the cables were all laid out. Our arch-competitor Reuters had a similar set-up.
On a nearby table outside I had opened up my computer for a quick edit of the arrival and handshake outside which would not be part of our live coverage on the inside. So as Paolo and I were scurrying from the entrance around to the backdoor, he pulled out the P2 memory card from the camera and handed it to me then ran into the living room to attach the camera to the tripod and the live cable to be ready for Kerry and Netanyahu to enter and give their statement.
I rushed over to the table outside, shoved the P2 Memory card into the card reader attached to the computer, opened Final Cut Pro and started transferring the arrival/handshake video. As I was doing this, I got a call from the London desk on my iPhone that the LIVE-U had gone black. DAMN. This is when I usually panic. I know how to do the technical part of my job only until things go wrong. Paolo had warned me that there might be either American or Israeli jammers that would block the cell-phone lines and mess up our LIVE U. There was a helicopter buzzing overhead, so I figured maybe that had something to do with it. I squatted on the ground and pressed a series of buttons on the LIVE-U hoping that Kerry and Netanyahu were not walking in. I think the buttons I pressed were stop, reconnect, options, server 2…I can’t even remember. The machine told me “Connecting- 43 seconds” aarrgh. Kerry and Netanyahu walked into the living room and took their seats, the black screen flashed back to the picture of Kerry and Netanyahu. PHEW. Don’t ask me how that happened but it had re-connected. I called London, Tom on APTN Direct picked up “HEY TRISHA, EVERYTHING’S FINE, WE’RE SEEING YOU!” he nearly shouted and slammed down the phone. (Poor Tom was also dealing with a much bigger media event at that moment — the Royal Christening)
I jumped up, rushed back to my computer, started sending 21 seconds of Kerry/Netanyahu video by ftp to London, ran through the open door to the living room where Kerry was already speaking. I had left my bag with my notebook and pen on the other side of the room so I had to take notes on my iPhone. I don’t know how everyone else does it, but I am hopeless. My fingers are too big and I get all the letters wrong when I try to write fast on one of those little gadgets.
Kerry was talking about Iran and here are some of the highlights of what he said,
“While we welcome, and we do welcome the change of rhetoric, the change of tone, the diplomatic opening that the Iranians have offered through President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, we have made clear and we are adamant that words are no substitute for action…We have said, President Obama has made it clear, he will pursue a diplomatic initiative but with eyes wide open.”
When Kerry concluded his brief statement, Netanyahu took his turn. He laid out in more detail what he thought the US should demand of Iran in negotiations. He said, “Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability. This means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges, or enrichment, they shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy water plant which is used only for nuclear weapons, and they should get rid of the amassed fissile material, and they shouldn’t have underground nuclear facilities, underground for one reason, for military purposes….I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal.”
Besides a few more relatively uninteresting comments on Syria and on-going negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that was more or less it and the two leaders stood up and walked out.
I continued my frenzied activity, editing together and writing the story and sending the edit via ftp to London. We also had to put back all our cables and computer chargers and lug all our material back to the office. And that was just a few hours on my job.
So that was the picture I was painting in Rome on Wednesday.
Today it was a lighter story. Italian Actress Sophia Loren was cleared by an Italian court on tax evasion charges after a 31 year legal battle.
Sophia Loren lives in Switzerland, so there was no chance of getting her on camera today but her lawyer released a statement saying “it is a miracle of justice, just when we did not believe in it any more, it has found a way to give us hope.”
Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled that the diva was legally correct in only paying 60 percent of her taxes on her 1974 income because of a 1982 tax amnesty. Tax officials said she owed 70 percent.
This is not the only tax evasion case that Sophia Loren has faced. Back in 1982 she spent 17 days in a prison in Southern Italy for not paying taxes on 112 million lire (roughly 775,000 euro). She blamed her tax preparer for that mistake.
Loren is not the only famous Italian to have trouble with the taxman, tenor Luciano Pavarotti and motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi, fashion designers Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce have all had legal difficulties.
I’ve covered Sophia Loren on several occasions. I spoke to her once at Italian Actor Marcello Mastroianni’s funeral in 1997 and she told me, in perfect English “there was a kind of chemistry between us, that could not be compared to anyone else and with anyone else.”
Whether she pays her taxes or not, Loren remains an untouchable heroine in Italy – an icon of the dolce vita that does not exist anymore.