November 26, 2014

Vandals and Selfies at the Colosseum

Restorer Sonia Lanzelotti repairing wall at the Colosseum where a vandal carved out the letter "K".  Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

Restorer Sonia Lanzelotti repairing wall at the Colosseum where a vandal carved out the letter “K”. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television Cameraman Gigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

Dear Blog Readers—

My blogger buddy Adri Barr Crocetti, the famous foodie who reveals her secrets on her blog adribarrcrocetti.com, asked me this week if I was going to write about the vandal at the Colosseum, so here goes…

A 25 centimter (10 Inch) letter "K" scratched into the wall of the Colosseum by a vandal on November 22.  Photo credit: Italian Ministry of Culture.

A 25 centimter (10 Inch) letter “K” scratched into the wall of the Colosseum by a vandal on November 22. Photo credit: Italian Ministry of Culture.

It was mid-morning last Friday when a security guard working in the Colosseum spotted a 42-year-old Russian tourist using a stone to scratch out a large letter  “K” 25 centimeters high (10 inches) and then beside it, in smaller letters an entire name, “Ketreia”.  She called the police who promptly arrested him.

The tourist was later fined 20,000 euros ($25,000) and got a suspended sentence to four years in prison. The Russian was not the first person to leave his mark on the Colosseum.

This morning I went with AP Television cameraman Gigi Navarra to the Colosseum to film the damage done by the vandal.  There we found restorer Sonia Lanzelotti in a white helmet and blue gloves, with what looked like a painter’s palette in her hand.  She was gently putting a reddish-yellow stucco over the scratched out letter “K” on the wall of Colosseum.

The walls around the edge of the Colosseum are covered with carved out names that were made by visitors when the Colosseum was left open to the public.  Now there is a metal barrier around the outside and only people with tickets can get in. According to Cinzia Conti , the Director of Restoration for the Colosseum who I spoke to today, “it happened more in the past especially because the Colosseum was open to the public, but today the monument is controlled by cameras and custodians who can keep these gestures from being repeated. “

A name etched into one of the outer walls of the Colosseum by vandals years ago.  Freeze frame of video shot by AP cameraman Gigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

A name etched into one of the outer walls of the Colosseum by vandals years ago. Freeze frame of video shot by AP cameraman Gigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

But despite the closed circuit cameras and vigilant custodians, there are still people from every corner of the globe who attempt to leave a mark.  In 2014 alone an Australian father and son got caught vandalizing the monument in January, a Canadian teenager was caught in March and a Brazilian teenager in May and now the Russian.  Perhaps that is not too many if one considers that over 5.5 million tourists visit the Colosseum every year.

As Sonia worked, a cute pair of Japanese tourists came buy holding an umbrella and quietly watched her work.  Several Americans and Russians traipsed by on the other side.

Tools used by restorer Sonia Lanzelotti to repair wall at Colosseum damaged by a vandal. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Luigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

Tools used by restorer Sonia Lanzelotti to repair wall at Colosseum damaged by a vandal. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Luigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

Sonia painted with a small brush and then used a tiny sponge to gently pat down the wall.  She explained to us that she was repairing the damage using stucco on the wall with various inserts of yellow and red terracotta trying to get as close as possible to the color of the original bricks.  She then used a brush and some paints to cover over the top.

Gigi and I stopped to asked some people outside the Colosseum what they thought about the vandal and his hefty fine. Vitaliy Lobodan from Russia said he thought the fine was well-deserved noting, “To write something on it, it is a crime.  It is not like they make you pay something to feel guilty, no.  You did a crime and you have pay the consequences.”

Lobodan’s view was shared by Lynette Mitchell from Washington, D.C. who told us, “I think it is awful, he should be fined.”

When you stand in the Colosseum it is hard to imagine that this amphitheater was built nearly 2000 years ago.  To be precise, construction of the Colosseum began in 70 A.D. under the Roman Emperor Vespasian and was opened in 80 AD under his son Titus.  They inaugurated the Colosseum with 80 days of games.  In front of some 50,000 spectators, gladiators would combat each other and wild animals such as lions, tigers and crocodiles and sometimes the floor of the arena was filled with water for re-enactments of naval battles.

Luckily today there weren’t any crocodiles or vandals, but I did get a big kick out of the couple doing a “kissing selfie” at the Colosseum.

Couple doing a "kissing selfie" at Colosseum in Rome. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

Couple doing a “kissing selfie” at Colosseum in Rome. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gigi Navarra. November 26, 2014

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November 20, 2014

Food, God and Glamour at Nutrition Conference in Rome

Two women delegates at the Second International Conference on Nutrition at FAO in Rome. November 19, 2014. Freeze Frame of FAO Pool Video

Two women delegates at the Second International Conference on Nutrition at FAO in Rome. November 19, 2014. Freeze Frame of FAO Pool Video

Dear Blog Readers, For the past few days I have been covering the Second International Conference on Nutrition at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. I  was not planning to write about it on my blog but a blog reader asked me to, so here I go.

Delegate standing at entrance to FAO for the Second International Conference on Nutrition. November 19, 2104. Freeze Frame of FAO pool video

Delegate standing at entrance to FAO for the Second International Conference on Nutrition. November 19, 2104. Freeze Frame of FAO pool video

Since 1996, I’ve covered several World Food Summits at the FAO headquarters in Rome and I admit that I love immersing myself in the international environment there.  There is always an interesting cast of characters — in the past I’ve listened to Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez speaking at the FAO. And after spending so much time covering the Vatican (mostly men in clerical collars and a few nuns and Swiss Guards here and there) and Italian politicians (men in elegant suits and women in pantsuits and spike heels) who live in their own byzantine Italian political world,  it is so refreshing to have the wide variety of nationalities and cultures represented at an organization like the FAO. (My cameraman friend Cristiano from Reuters TV told me he loves covering stories at FAO because he has never seen so many beautiful and exotic women in one place)

A delegate to the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Plenary Hall at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. November 19, 2014. Freeze Frame of FAO Pool Video

A delegate to the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Plenary Hall at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. November 19, 2014. Freeze Frame of FAO Pool Video

On top of that, how can anyone disagree with their goals – the importance of feeding the hungry is something we can all agree on.  We have sometimes wondered how the FAO seems capable of spending a lot of money on bureaucrats with cushy tax-free jobs, who take forever to come up with elaborate reports on obvious problems, however, overall I think the FAO is a good institution.  I am an even bigger fan of the World Food Programme, but more on that another time.

But back to the coverage of the conference. The first nutrition conference was in 1992 and since then, according to FAO statistics, hunger has dropped by 21 percent. That is great news. However 800 million people still go hungry.  According to FAO statistics, 2.8 million children under age five die of undernutrition every year. That should not happen in 2014. The conference also addressed the question of obesity.  FAO data shows that 42 million children under the age of five are already overweight in 2013,  and in 2010 five hundred  million adults around the globe were affected by obesity.

Clearly there is a lot to work on.

Delegate listening to speeches in FAO Plenary at Second International Conference on Nutritition. November 20, 2014. Freeze frame of FAO pool video.

Delegate listening to speeches in FAO Plenary at Second International Conference on Nutritition. November 20, 2014. Freeze frame of FAO pool video.

The conference came out with the “Rome Declaration on Nutrition”, a wide-ranging report declaring some facts about health and nutrition around the globe.

Here are a few quotes from that: Rome Declaration on Nutrition:

–“epidemics such as the Ebola virus disease, pose tremendous challenges to food security and nutrition.”

–“…need to address the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on food security and nutrition”

–“undernutrition was the main underlying cause of death in children under five, causing 45% of all child deaths in 2013”

–“Family farmers and smallholders, notably women farmers, play an important role in reducing malnutrition…”

–“food losses and waste throughout the food chain should be reduced in order to contribute to food security, nutrition and sustainable development;”

The conference also came up with a Framework for Action which included 60 points on how to tackle nutrition issues.  These included things from “periodic deworming for all school-age children in endemic areas” and “provide iron, and Vitamin A supplementation for pre-school children” to “Conduct appropriate marketing campaigns and lifestyle change communication programs…”

The days were chock-a-block with speeches from representatives around the world – over 170 countries were taking part, so we had to pick and choose.

Pope Francis delivers his speech during the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.  Photo by AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia

Pope Francis delivers his speech during the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia

The Pope was perhaps the highlight of the event arriving in the plenary hall today in his white robes and delivering a strong speech in which he decried the “primacy of profit” and “market priorities” that have made food a “commodity” and not a basic human right.  The Pope insisted that the poor should not be “left at the street corner” and declared, “We ask for dignity, not for charity.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the risk to the health of man when the earth is destroyed and earned a loud applause when he noted that, “God always forgives insults and ill-treatment, yes, God always forgives.  Men forgive sometimes, but the earth never forgives. We must take care of Mother Earth so she doesn’t answer with destruction.”

Spain's Queen Letizia claps her hands during  the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia

Spain’s Queen Letizia claps her hands during the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia

Adding a note of glamour to the event today was Queen Letizia of Spain who wore an elegant tomato-red dress and delivered a passionate speech about the need to combat malnutrition.  She concluded recommending a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and lots of exercise.  She also announced Spain’s commitment to the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action agreed to at the conference on Wednesday.

(As gorgeous as she is, she did seem a bit to me like a cookie-cutter copy of the beautiful and talented Queen Rania of Jordan)

FAO officials said they were pleased by the way in which a group with representatives from 170 countries were so unified in their commitment to combat malnutrition. After the meetings today I spoke to FAO’s Chief Nutritionist, Brian Thompson, who said  it is not about just food, it is about economic and social factors. “The reasons for the persistently high and unacceptable levels of malnutrition in the world today is because of social exclusion, and economic marginalization.”

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November 16, 2014

Triton Update

HELPING THE CHILDREN ON BOAT

Dear Blog Readers –

Here is a quick update to my earlier post (Back to Lampedusa) on visiting the Portuguese ship Viana Do Castelo. When my AP Television colleague Paolo Santalucia and I visited the ship last Wednesday there were no migrant spottings, but on Friday night the ship kicked into action overnight with their first rescue operation.

Migrants' ship next to Portuguese Vessel Viana Do Castelo. Friday, November 14, 2014. Credit: Portuguese Navy

Migrants’ ship next to Portuguese Vessel Viana Do Castelo. Friday, November 14, 2014. Credit: Portuguese Navy

They were sent to rescue a migrant ship under distress 40 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. When they reached the migrants they found 201 people packed on board a small, rickety wooden boat. The Portuguese transferred the migrants to their ship where they provided blankets, water, food and medical assistance. On board were 20 women and 15 children.

Freeze frame of videio of migrants on deck of Portuguese vessel the Viana Do Castelo. November 14, 2014. Credit: Portuguese Navy

Freeze frame of videio of migrants on deck of Portuguese vessel the Viana Do Castelo. November 14, 2014. Credit: Portuguese Navy

Under the operating procedures, the identification of the migrants’ nationalities and any finger-printing is left to the Italian authorities once the migrants reach shore.

On Saturday morning the migrants were transferred to the Italian navy ship, the San Giorgio, which is transporting them to Sicily where they are expected to arrive today (Sunday, November 16th).

The crew sent me these photos of the operation.

A little migrant girl helping a Portuguese sailor fold a blanket on the deck of Viana Do Castelo. November  15, 2014 Credit: Portuguese Navy

A little migrant girl helping a Portuguese sailor fold a blanket on the deck of Viana Do Castelo. November 15, 2014 Credit: Portuguese Navy

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November 14, 2014

Back to Lampedusa

A panoramic photo of the Isola dei Conigli (Rabbit Island)  on Lampedusa, Italy.  November 13, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

A panoramic photo of the Isola dei Conigli (Rabbit Island) on Lampedusa, Italy. November 13, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Dear Blog Readers— I am back on Lampedusa – that little slip of an Island that is a closer to Africa than to Italy – the destination for tens of thousands of migrants every year. (See Blog Post: Lampedusa: Europe’s Port).

This time I am back for a story on the beginning of Operation Triton, a joint European effort to patrol the Mediterranean waters around Italy and save migrant ships in distress at sea.  This operation is taking over from Mare Nostrum, the Italian operation which was launched in October 2013, shortly after a migrant ship sunk off the coast of Lampedusa leaving over 300 people dead. (see Blog post: Into the Deep Blue Cemetery off Lampedusa).

Mare Nostrum was a massive effort by the Italian Navy to rescue all boats coming from North Africa.  It cost Italy 9.5 million euros a month and involved five navy ships and five planes.  Over the course of a year (from October 2013 to October 2014) they made 558 rescues and saved 100,250 people. During that period 499 migrants died at sea, 1,446 disappeared and they have been unable to identify 192 cadavers. They also arrested 728 traffickers.

Over the past year, Italy has pushed hard to get Europe to step up and take over the operation of patrolling the coast.  Europe moved slowly, as usual, and Italy quickly developed a policy of letting the migrants move through Italy without being finger-printed so they could claim refugee status in other countries.

A Delta Rescue Boat takes off from the Viana Do Castelo Open Sea Patrol Vessel. November12, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

A Delta Rescue Boat takes off from the Viana Do Castelo Open Sea Patrol Vessel. November12, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

To see Operation Triton in action, the group of journalists from Italy, France, Germany, Britain and the US gathered in the port early and were taken in groups of four on a Dutch patrol boat out to the Portuguese open sea patrol vessel.

As we flew across the rough sea sometimes the nose of the boat seemed like it was going straight up in the air and just as I thought we would flip over backwards, we came crashing back down in the trough before riding up on the next wave. It was slightly unnerving but I figured the Dutch sailors knew what they were doing.  Emma, a British correspondent for The Guardian, told me she had taken some heavy-duty seasickness pill and I was wondering if I should have too as we charged along flying over the tops of the waves and then came plummeting back down.

When we pulled up alongside the Portuguese ship, the Viana Do Castelo, they lowered a rope ladder, which looked easy enough to climb, but with both boats bouncing up and down on the sea it was a challenge.  We all grasped and struggled our way up as the sailors on top reached down to pull us in. Over the course of the day, we had a fascinating look at how their operations work.

A delta rescue boat aboard the Portuguese open sea patrol vessel Viana do Castelo as sailors prepare to lower it into sea. November 13, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

A delta rescue boat aboard the Portuguese open sea patrol vessel Viana do Castelo as sailors prepare to lower it into sea. November 13, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Unlike the Italian “Mare Nostrum”, Operation Triton is patrolling a much smaller area – only the 30 nautical miles off the south of Italy’s coast.  Nineteen EU countries are now contributing to the operation and the total cost is 2.9 million euro per month, only a one-third of the cost of the Italian operation.

Portuguese sailor aboard the Viana Do Castelo looks out towards the sea for migrants as his ship sails south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. November 12, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Portuguese sailor aboard the Viana Do Castelo looks out towards the sea for migrants as his ship sails south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. November 12, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

We interviewed Veronica Sousa, a nurse aboard the ship who told us they were prepared for many eventualities including delivering babies (many migrant women arrive pregnant and some have delivered babies aboard rescue vessels), helping children, dealing with severely dehydrated passengers.  She also explained that they have “sanitary kits” for dealing with migrants that might have infectious diseases such as Ebola. The Triton operation has three large ships and two patrol boats, 2 planes and one helicopter involved in surveillance operations.   As we stood on the deck of the Viana Do Castelo, a Finnish surveillance plane roared past overhead heading out to sea to try to spot migrant ships.

Finnish Surveillance plane taking part in Operation Triton flies past Portuguese patrol vessel south of Lampedusa. November 12, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Finnish Surveillance plane taking part in Operation Triton flies past Portuguese patrol vessel south of Lampedusa. November 12, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Back at the airport in Lampedusa, I had a chance to speak to the Finnish pilot Captain Lauri Pakkala of the Finnish Border Guard who explained, they must fly high above the water, never letting the migrants ships see them.  If the migrants on board a ship realize they have been spotted by rescuers, they “might resort to activities that might be dangerous to themselves such as throwing away life jackets or things like that.  They might assume that as soon as they are spotted that they will be rescued quite quickly which might not always be the case.”

During my time on the ship and on shore, I had a chance to talk at length with Izabella Cooper, the spokeswoman for Frontex, the European Agency which oversees joint border control operations.  She has been following the migrant crossings of the Mediterranean for years.  Frontex has teams of de-briefers who speak to the migrants and ask them to volunteer information about the traffickers.  According to Frontex, which has been collecting data for the past seven years, 2014 has had the most migrants with 140,000 arriving on the coasts of Italy from Libya.

Izabella told me ““Libya is a de facto failed state without functioning law enforcement authorities, which creates a bonanza for the smuggling networks to operate.  The smugglers run what we can easily define as a zero-risk, high-profit activity.  They can make up to one million Euros on a boat with up to 450 people on board.”

Freeze frame of Coast Guard video of a migrant ship heading towards Sicily on November 3, 2014.  There were 329 migrants on board.

Freeze frame of Coast Guard video of a migrant ship heading towards Sicily on November 3, 2014. There were 329 migrants on board.

She explained that they have noted a significant increase in brutality and violence on the part of the traffickers.  Apparently some of the migrants arrive at the shore in Libya, see the boat they are supposed to travel on and realize the risk.  If they try to turn back, the traffickers violently force them on board.

Freeze Frame of Italian Navy video of a rubber raft they rescued on August 25, 2014 where they saved 73 migrants and found 18 dead.

According to Izabella,  “if the smugglers see any indication or lack of subordination they react with violence….We are finding there are incidences of stabbings on board and migrants being thrown overboard. They are now even using electric tasers to shock people to keep them calm if they think they are getting agitated.”

Izabella also explained they have discovered a heavy dose of racism in the trafficker’s behavior, “We have indications that black Africans are put below deck and locked in the hold so they can’t get out.  For several days they are forced to breathe the engine fumes.  If there is an accident, there is no way for them to escape.”

Associated Press video-journalist Paolo Santalucia filming the boat graveyard on the Italian island of Lampedusa. November 11, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Associated Press video-journalist Paolo Santalucia filming the boat graveyard on the Italian island of Lampedusa. November 11, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Back on Lampedusa, my AP Television VJ colleague Paolo Santalucia and I rented an ATV (a four-wheel all terrain vehicle), to buzz around the island talking to the people about how they saw the situation.  We filmed the boat graveyard at the edge of the port where over the years the rotting migrant boats have piled up. We went to the Isola dei Conigli (Rabbit Island) –see panoramic photo above_- to see the place where the 366 migrants died last year.  We visited the Holding center on the island, which is now being refurbished, but a year ago was packed with hundreds of migrants.  I was fascinated by the writing on the walls in the women’s dormitory – their names, a dove, a cross, and several women had written “I love you” and the name of a man.

Associated Press video-journalist Paolo Santalucia filming fisherman Pasquale Palmisano and another fisherman repairing their nets on a pier in Lampedusa. November 13, 2014

Associated Press video-journalist Paolo Santalucia filming fisherman Pasquale Palmisano and another fisherman repairing their nets on a pier in Lampedusa. November 13, 2014

In the port, we found a couple of fisherman repairing their nets because the sea was too rough to go out.  We chatted with them for a while to get  their thoughts on the migrant situation – and I couldn’t help thinking how much they reminded me of fishermen I have seen repairing nets in Gloucester, Massachusetts, or Portland, Maine.

Pasquale Palmisano looked up from his work, put a hand on his heart and said in gruff tone, “Mare Nostrum or whatever other name you want to call it, does not change anything at all for us. They must go look for them (migrants) over there, on the other side, on the other shore, it is useless that they leave them in the middle of the sea, the accidents will always happen.”

Lampedusan fisherman Pasquale Palmisano explains how he feels about efforts to rescue migrants. November 13, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Lampedusan fisherman Pasquale Palmisano explains how he feels about efforts to rescue migrants. November 13, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

 

The fisherman of Lampedusa know a thing or two about rescuing migrants, over the years they have rescued many themselves, pulling drowning migrants onto their boats and carrying them to shore.  It was a fisherman who first found the migrants off Rabbit Island.

After that sinking, I interviewed Tadese Fisaha, a 29-year-old survivor from Eritrea.  With tears in his eyes, he told me that when the ship sank, although he did not know how to swim, he managed to tread water for three hours as his family members and friends died around him.  Finally a fisherman arrived and pulled him out of the water.

For the moment, there are many less migrants arriving.  The weather has been bad and the sea is rough, but on Lampedusa the residents wonder what will happen come spring when the weather is warm and the sea is calm.

There is something about Lampedusa that seems like a frontier town, an outpost.  The main street – Via Roma – is a wide deserted avenue with a line of shops and bars that reminds me of a far west ghost town.

A stray dog snoozes in the port of Lampedusa. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2014

A stray dog snoozes in the port of Lampedusa. Photo by Trisha Thomas, November 12, 2014

Stray dogs wander about like they own the place.  Lampedusa residents buzz around on mopeds without bothering with helmets.  For the moment everything is tranquil but I have a feeling I will be back to cover the migrant story again.

Trisha Thomas heading for the plane on the runway in Lampedusa, macbook in one hand, computer bag in the other. Photo by Paolo Santalucia. November 13, 2014

Trisha Thomas heading for the plane on the runway in Lampedusa, Photo by Paolo Santalucia. November 13, 2014

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October 25, 2014

Rome’s Dueling Dancing Duo

Father David Rider and Father John Gibson dancing at the North American College Rome, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Domenico Stinellis (oh, and that is me Trisha Thomas (aka Mozzarella Mamma) in the background.

Father David Rider and Father John Gibson dancing at the North American College Rome, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Domenico Stinellis (oh, and that is me Trisha Thomas (aka Mozzarella Mamma) in the background.

Father David Rider and Father John Gibson pull up creaky chairs on the wooden stage at the North American College and slide off their black work shoes revealing serious black priests’ socks.  Father David slips his feet into metal tipped dancing shoes while Father John laces up his Irish dancing shoes with fiber glass tips and heels.  Father David looks at AP cameraman Paolo Lucariello and says, “tell us when?”  And just like that they are off — tipping, tapping, stomping, twirling and swirling.  They are having a terrific time.

The dueling dancing feet of Father David Rider and Father John Gibson. Freeze frame of video shot by ApTN cameraman Paolo Lucariello. October 2014

The dueling dancing feet of Father David Rider and Father John Gibson. Freeze frame of video shot by ApTN cameraman Paolo Lucariello. October 2014

They repeat their various routines over and over again as Paolo and AP photographer Domenico Stinellis work their way around the stage getting close ups of their feet, their faces and long shots of them together gleefully jumping in the air.  I slip around the stage trying not to get in the way and enjoying every second of it.

All this was for a story that AP ran this week on this fabulous couple of dancing priests in Rome.  Some of you may have already seen the short AP story but here is my longer version:

They tip, they tap, they stomp and jump and twist and twirl.  They are the dueling dancing priests who have gone viral on the web.  It all started with a show last spring at the Rector’s dinner at the North American College – the elite university for American seminarians in Rome.  Twenty-nine year-old Father David Rider from Hyde Park, New York let loose a fabulous routine of tap-dancing.  But after a few minutes another priest made his way up to the stage, Father John Gibson, a 28-year-old from Milwaukee.  Gibson gave Rider a friendly push aside and launched into a round of energetic Irish dancing, bouncing high in the air.  And then they were off and running, taking turns trying to outdo each other while the crowd went wild.

Joan Lewis, the Rome Bureau Chief for Eternal World Television Network was in the back of the room.  She pulled out her ipad and began to film.  That night she posted it on her youtube site “JoansRome” with the title “A MUST SEE TAP DANCE DUEL BY US SEMINARIANS” As she explained to me the other day at the Vatican—in between briefings on the Synod– the clicks started to fly. “It just kept growing and growing…and it has just grown and grown and I know yesterday it was 240,000, so who knows what it is today, it seems to grow by about 5,000 a day.”  (Note: as of today, October 25th, the hits are over one million.)

But with the clicks came the comments, dozens of them.  Several individuals said that the priests should not be dancing under a crucifix sparking a debate.  The comments have now been removed, but there are still 151 thumbs down compared to over 4,000 thumbs up.  Clearly some people have a problem seeing priests dance under a painting of Pope Francis and a large Crucifix.

Father David Rider spinning around in a dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner

Father David Rider spinning around in a dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner

Joan Lewis was unfazed, “The overwhelming majority approve it.  There was a small group, and then they started writing each other, a small group saying “oh my goodness they are dancing under the crucifix…So those comments, I mean, I read them, they are in a minority, and its just like “oh gosh, I kinda feel sorry for ya.”

Father John Gibson jumping high in an Irish dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner

Father John Gibson jumping high in an Irish dance routine at the North American College performance. April 29, 2014. Freeze frame of Video. Credit: Pontifical North American College and Mr. J William Sumner

On a recent morning in Rome, Father David and Father John donned their dancing shoes for a rehearsal at the North American College with Associated Press. Father David had his metal-tipped tap-dancing shoes, and Father John had his fiberglass reinforced tips and heels.   The two of them clipped across the wooden stage in the North American College auditorium as they flew through their routines with energy and passion.  It wasn’t long before they had worked up a sweat in their long black pants and long sleeved black shirts and white collars. Father David told me they would never dance in anything else, “I never dance without my collar on, I always wear these clothes as witness.”

The two men are not quite sure what to make of their newfound fame. “Everyone I talk to nowadays brings up that video, most people are very energetic and enthusiastic about it so it is good to receive that feedback,” said Father John sheepishly, insisting that his real priority in life is becoming a parish priest back in Wisconsin. Father John said he comes from a big Irish family in Milwaukee and it was his sister who first introduced him to the joys of Irish dancing.

Father David Rider's well-worn tap dancing shoes waiting for him to put them on.  Freeze frame of video shot by Paolo Lucariello. October, 2014

Father David Rider’s well-worn tap dancing shoes waiting for him to put them on. Freeze frame of video shot by Paolo Lucariello. October, 2014

Father David Rider started taking tap dancing lessons when he was three, then when he was a young teen he saw Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” and fell in love with it and decided he wanted to become a tap dancer.   Each young man felt the calling to become a priest in his late teens and decided to make that his top priority, but neither has given up on dancing.

They were both surprised when their dancing duel went viral and were not expecting the negative comments.   “Oh, well some people thought that it is not appropriate for priests to dance,” said Rider, “we would just refer them to the Bible where David dances before the Ark of the Covenant and the Lord tells us to live with joy. This is a great way to express joy.”

Both priests have completed their seminarian course and are busy getting graduate degrees now at other Pontifical Universities in Rome, but they have not given up the dancing.  According to Father David,  “ Because there is not too much precedent for tap dancing priests, I have no one to look to see how this all works out. So really it is all to be discovered.”

Note to Blog Readers: Unfortunately, I cannot attach the AP Television report we did because it is for AP TV clients only, but here is a shortened version  for AP’s on-line video service.

DANCING PRIESTS – AP ONLINE VIDEO VERSION

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October 16, 2014

Seventh Versus Eighth and the Purple Undies

Settimo resting near the bench in our park in Rome. Photo by Chiara Piga

Settimo resting near the bench in our park in Rome. Photo by Chiara Piga

Dear Blog Readers –

I am drowning in the Vatican’s Synod on the Family — ever since the Relatio (preliminary document) came out on Monday, the conservatives are blaming the progressives for going to far and the progressives are blaming the press for spinning the story.  Members of the press are interviewing other members of the press and asking them who is to blame and who is spinning what.  The Sala Stampa della Santa Sede (the Vatican Press office) is bombarding the press with documents in Italian, English, French and Spanish, everything seems translated in different ways and it is becoming a bit of a free for all.  This weekend is the end of round one, so I will attempt something more thoughtful after that.

In the meantime, I am going to tell you about some real spinning I was doing this week.

Yesterday was one of those mornings that most of us have sooner or later when you can’t find a decent pair of underwear in your underwear drawer.  So, half asleep,  I went digging around in the back of the drawer and pulled out a pair of gigantic, nun-size and style, purple underwear.  Whatever.   Put them on and went to work and didn’t think any more about it.

(I actually remember why I have that dreadful underwear.  I bought them at Remy’s in Bridgton, Maine when I arrived there from Italy on vacation and realized I hadn’t packed any underwear.  Anyone who has been to Remy’s in Bridgton, Maine knows it is not exactly Victoria’s Secret.  You could tackle a moose in that underwear and you wouldn’t even get a wedgie.  Actually a moose could probably wear that underwear.)

I got home late from work and obviously no one had walked the dog so I grabbed him, shuffled down to the park and plopped my tired tail on a park bench.  Now anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that my dog’s name is Settimo (which means seventh in Italian), and we call him “Set” for short.   And if you read this blog regularly, you are well aware that Settimo is a total wimp.  (see blog posts: Doggy Blues or Settimo Cielo and Vampire Mamma).

As I was seated on the park bench I got a phone call and I began chatting.  Settimo snuffled around — he should be a truffle hunting dog, all he likes to do is sniff around– never straying far from my bench.  As I spoke, I noticed a great big, chocolate-brown bull-dog heading across the park.  The dog looked mean and he wasn’t on a leash.   There was a young woman trailing along behind him.  I couldn’t help noticing that the big bulldog was lifting his leg and peeing on about everything in sight as he headed our way.  Talk about a virile male letting us know it is his territory.  Settimo noticed him too and came and sat close to me.  I continued to chat but held his little harness-collar.

And then it happened — the bull-dog charged, I tried to hold Settimo and suddenly I  found myself spinning like a top on the ground between these two dogs, desperately trying to hold Settimo to keep him from escaping straight out of the park, and madly trying to push away the bull-dog and keep him from eating Set for dinner.  I was spinning amid a cacophony of yelps and barks and growls.  And, in the middle of all this spinning, it occurred to me that my dress had flown up and my purple underwear was exposed to the whole world.  Oh horrors!

Then the young woman arrived and dragged off her dog and a crowd gathered around and stared down at me on the ground clutching onto my hopelessly frightened cocker and trying to get my dress back in place.  My sunglasses had flown in one direction, my cell phone in another, my purse in another, and I was missing an earring.  I was bleeding on my elbow and my ankle.

The bull-dog lady took her dog a short distance away. I got up, got Settimo back on his leash (he was fine) and everyone began looking for my earring.   Suddenly the bull-dog lady was back declaring, “I have to bring him back, he can’t get away with this, he needs to learn, let’s try again to see if they can get along.”  Fortunately, I didn’t have to open my mouth, several people shooed her away.

This morning I bumped into my dog-walker friend Lucia as I was heading to work.  She immediately asked if Settimo was ok.  Although she had not witnessed the event, word apparently travels fast among the dog-owners in our park.  I told her Settimo was fine and she said, “funny about that, Otto is usually such a sweet dog.”

“Otto — so that was the name of the bull-dog,”  I thought. (Otto means eight in Italian) How strange Eighth versus Seventh and the Spinning Mamma in the middle.

Moral of the story:  Don’t wear your purple nun underwear when you walk your dog

(post-script: If there are any nuns reading this, I hope I am not offending you. If you feel your undergarments have been incorrectly described or unjustly maligned, you can feel free to correct me in a comment)

 

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September 12, 2014

An Extraordinary Meeting

Pope Francis stops and shakes hands with a Swiss Guard as he enters into the Synod Hall for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  October 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia for Mozzarella Mamma

Pope Francis stops and shakes hands with a Swiss Guard as he enters into the Synod Hall for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. October 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Gregorio Borgia for Mozzarella Mamma

This week an extraordinary meeting began at the Vatican.  In Vatican words it is the “Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges on the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”  Huh?  What’s that? It is a meeting to discuss and seek answers to some of the hottest questions facing the church today.

Let me give a quick list of some of the issues that have emerged from all five continents: birth control, communion for divorced and remarried couples, pre-marital sex, in-vitro fertilization, pre-marital co-habitation, baptism for adopted children of gay couples, polygamy, child brides, teen mothers, migration and domestic violence and abuse.  Wow, that is enough to leave anyone’s head spinning.

Unlike Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who would arrive at meetings in a car from the Papal apartments, Pope Francis showed up early Monday morning, walking over from the Santa Marta residence where he lives.  In a gesture that I have seen before, Pope Francis stopped in front of the Swiss guard saluting at the door and shook his hand.  To me this simple gesture says a lot.  Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan said in an interview in “Corriere Della Sera” today that inside the Synod Hall Pope Francis leaves his seat walks around seeking out people he wants to speak to, he gets a coffee with the rest of them and chats with the waiters. Pope Francis wants to reach out to everyone, that is what he is doing on a personal level, and that is clearly the direction he is pushing the church, but not everyone agrees with him.

In his opening statement, Pope Francis urged the 235 attendees to speak their minds.  He said,  “speak clearly,” “without fear” and “listen with humility.”

So, who is attending this meeting and can we expect them to reach any decisions?  There are 235 people attending, 191 of whom are the Synod fathers — Bishops and Cardinals who will have a say in the final document.  The others are priests and nuns, experts and observers. Among the observers are 14 married couples — one of which is a mixed marriage between a Catholic and Muslim.  There is a total of 25 women attending.

To prepare for this meeting, the Vatican sent out a questionnaire one year ago to be given to Catholics around the world asking them in 39 questions about issues related to the family.  The results showed that on some key issues, birth-control for example, many Catholics ignore church teaching.  From that Synod organizers put together a working document called the Instrumentem Laboris, laying out what they intend to discuss.  (If anyone is interested in reading it, here is the link to the English version on the Vatican website. INSTRUMENTEM LABORIS )

Pope Francis at prayer vigil on October 4th, the night before the opening of the Synod on the family. Photo by AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

Pope Francis at prayer vigil on October 4th, the night before the opening of the Synod on the family. Photo by AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

For many people in the US and Europe, the meeting is about birth-control, and communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, but this week I spoke to Robert Mickens, Editor-in-Chief of the Global Pulse and a long time Vatican watcher.  He told me,

“We have got issues of single people, we’ve got issues of gays and lesbians – this is all spelled out in that document.  Birth control for example, that is one of the things that has always been a hot-button issue in the church ever since 1968 when Paul VI issued Humane Vitae….but  you have to remember that this is an international meeting.  We are not talking just about North America or Europe, where the issues like divorced and remarriage are very much in the forefront.  There are issues of polygamy in other countries and on other continents.  So the Synod is going to have to somehow deal with all these things.”

Cardinals at prayer vigil on October 4th, the night before the opening of the Synod on the family. Photo by AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

Cardinals at prayer vigil on October 4th, the night before the opening of the Synod on the family. Photo by AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino for Mozzarella Mamma

Before the Synod even began, controversy was brewing over the question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

The debate started in February when a prominent German Cardinal, Walter Kasper, delivered a speech during a closed meeting of cardinals in which he presented the possibility that divorced Catholics who are re-married might be able to receive communion.  The key word in Kasper’s thinking is the same as the title of a book he wrote called “Mercy”. Kasper thinks that mercy should be shown to those who are divorced and remarried.

Before the opening of the Synod, five Cardinals, including the Head of the Vatican’s office for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s Supreme Court, published a book expressing their views in sharp contrast to Cardinal Kasper.  The book, titled “Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church,” appeared in bookstores near the Vatican just as the Synod was about to begin.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top economic adviser, did the same in a preface to another book, making his case on the indissolubility of marriage.  (A little side note, one Italian Vaticanista told me, making a play on words with the Cardinal’s last name, that Cardinal Pell “non ha peli su la lingua”  which literally translated is “he doesn’t have hairs on his tongue” and means he speaks his mind, a straight shooter who says exactly what he thinks. That is apparently what Francis wants — people who speak their minds, even if they disagree with him.

While the Synod Fathers debated the question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, out on the street in front of the Vatican, the public was with Kasper.  An Associated Press Television crew spoke to some married couples attending the Pope’s weekly audience.  Pamela Scarpitta, a newlywed from Salerno, Italy attending the audience in her wedding dress, said she thought it was not fair that divorced and remarried couples cannot take communion.  “If Christ came to heal the sinners, why shouldn’t they receive the communion? This is not to say divorced people are all sinners, but they are those who need it the most. So why deny it to them? ”

Inside the Synod Hall it has been a busy week.  The Vatican heard from a couple who has been married for 55 years, Ron and Mavis Pirola of Australia, who shook up the the austere group by talking about the joys of sex and how Catholic friends warmly welcomed their gay son’s partner in their home for a Christmas celebration.

Outside the Synod, Cardinal Burke immediately expressed his opposition to a family welcoming a gay couple into their home.  In an interview with Lifesite News he said, “If homosexual relations are intrinsically disordered, which indeed they are — reason teaches us that and also our faith — then, what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living in a disordered relationship with another person?”

However, other Bishops speaking in the Synod have suggested that the Vatican needs to change its language  getting rid of expressions like “living in sin”, “contraceptive mentality” and “intrinsically disordered” (in reference to homosexual sex) because they are judgmental and distance people from the Church.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, suggested streamlining the annulment process (don’t expect any annulment drive-thrus at the Vatican any time soon).  Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said on homosexuals, “We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who has been harassed, who has been imprisoned or punished.”

Progressives seem pleased with the process, conservatives less so.  AP wire’s Vaticanista Nicole Winfield pointed out a website to me that is highly critical.  It is called “The Catholic Thing.” There I found the following quote from Robert Royal reporting on the Synod:

“The mood in Rome is – let’s just speak the truth – tense. According to one quite reliable source on site, it’s not only the “Ratzingerians” like Cardinal Burke who have been feeling an icy wind. It’s also more “moderate” Cardinals and members of the Curia who simply don’t know what to make of what’s going on. And fear what might happen if they say the “wrong” thing – difficult to avoid when things are so unclear.

… the responses to the pope in private – again, beyond the usual conservative suspects and into more neutral, mainstream figures – has been equally tart: “a Latin dictator,” “a Peron,” someone who likes to be center stage in the limelight. And perhaps the most shocking comment of all from more than one person: “His health is bad, so at least this won’t last too long.”

YIKES!  I have never heard any of those descriptions of Pope Francis before.

But beyond the debate,what is actually going to happen?  The Synod ends on October 19th.  A team of bishops will be putting together a final document with the conclusions from the Synod.  This document will be sent to bishops around the world to be discussed in their archdioceses.  Catholics around the globe will have a chance to read it and give their opinion.  In one year the Synod will meet again to go over the results.  When next year’s synod ends the Pope will release a “Apostolic Exhortation”, which presumably will include some changes.  So if anyone is expected any tangible changes after these two weeks, they can forget it.  But the ball is rolling.

Blog readers — all this Synod stuff is very complicated– I didn’t even touch the question of pastoral vs. doctrinal changes– so if you are interested in more detail, I suggest you read the articles written by my colleagues and friends including, AP wire’s Vatican expert Nicole Winfield @nwinfield,  John Thavis’ Blog www.JohnThavis.com, Father Thomas Reese on National Catholic Reporter ncronline.com, Bob Mickens at the Global Pulse Mag www.globalpulsemagazine.com, all the reporting by Catholic News Service, and John Allen at www.cruxnow.com — I know all these people and they are all excellent Vatican reporters.  If you are interested in the views of the guy I quoted above, I do not know him and do no agree with the viewpoint, but the website is: www.thecatholicthing.org

A huge THANK YOU to my AP colleagues – photographers Alessandra Tarantino and Gregorio Borgia who are always so generous about giving me their extra photographs that don’t go out on the AP Wire.

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Vampire Mamma

MMiM

If you are male, STOP RIGHT HERE. DO NOT READ ANOTHER WORD.

PHEW. Got Rid of Them.

OK, female Blog Readers, on with this post.  TOP SECRET – I think Mozzarella Mamma is in menopause (MMiM).  OH, WOE IS ME!  How can it be true???  Now — why would I think that?  Among other things, I have been noticing a rising sense of frustration and irritability with the whole entire world so I Googled menopause symptoms the other day and this is what I found. There are all sorts of lovely things like: irritability, mood swings, depression, anxiety, loss of sex drive, hair loss, night sweats, and fatigue, and that is just the beginning. (see Link HERE to get totally depressed)

It all started the other day when I was taking my dog, Settimo, for a walk and this lovely, friendly golden retriever started bounding, playfully towards him.  Settimo is a total wimp and he tucked his tail between his legs and charged away heading straight out of the park.  I had to sprint to catch him and keep him from heading out into the traffic.  I caught him, put him back on the leash and dragged him back into the park.  Then all of a sudden I felt my eyes filling up with tears.  Yes, I was about to cry about the fact that my dog is such a WIMP that he is scared of a friendly golden retriever.  (what would that be– anxiety, mood swing, or depression?)

Then a few days later I had to travel with the Pope to Albania (see Blog Post: A Trip to Albania with Pope Francis ) and the press had to be at the airport for the Papal Plane at 4:45 am.  At 4:30 am I was in a taxi going to the airport with AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara, when all of a sudden I was steaming hot and sweaty.  “Gosh, it is pretty hot for 4:30 in the morning,” I said, “can we open some windows?”  Gianfranco opened a window and then told me, “Trisha, that is what we call VAMPATA.”  Well, “vampata” means Hot Flash in Italian, but in that moment it sounded an awful lot like vampire to me.  “A Vampata must me some sort of middle-aged, nasty, wenchy female Vampire,” I thought and contemplated sticking my pronged fangs into his neck and doing him in right then and there.  (A slight over-reaction to his probably accurate assessment).

Again, this morning, out the door to walk the damn dog at dawn.  When I got back home, I realized I had leftover pancake batter so I could make the girls pancakes as a surprise for breakfast.  I started preparing them, and then wanted to make myself a caffe’ latte and realized there was no milk in the house.  The frustration, irritability started rising up again.  Damn it, why isn’t there any MILK???  So I grabbed my purse and headed out to get some milk telling my daughter Chiara to turn over the pancakes.  I returned 15 minutes later and as I came up the stairs of our building I could smell the burnt pancakes.  I charged into the smoky kitchen and looked at Chiara and said, “YOU BURNT THE PANCAKES!”  — the frustration, anger and irritability was rising up inside me again, and Chiara looked at me and said, “yeah Mom, chill, we’re still going to eat them, and you should be thanking me anyway for making them.”

At that point I had a choice — go VAMPATA on my daughters or repress that MMiM anger.  So I repressed it by sitting down at the table and eating four burnt pancakes with strawberry jam and maple syrup on them.

If I am going to be a VAMPATA, I might as well be a fat and happy one.

POSTSCRIPT:  I’ve actually been working on a serious post today on the Synod on the Family at the Vatican and once I get over being in a grouchy mood, I will finish it and post it.

 

 

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September 30, 2014

Who is the Real Amal Alamuddin?

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney on their way to their civil wedding ceremony in Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by Gianfranco Stara. September 30, 2014

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney on their way to their civil wedding ceremony in Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by Gianfranco Stara. September 30, 2014

After five days in Venice chasing after George Clooney and his bride Amal Alamuddin, I am finally back in Rome.  I had a blast covering this story because it was completely different from most of the work I do for AP Television.  Let’s just say that chasing after Clooney in a water taxi in Venice is a little different from covering the Pope, or Berlusconi, or destitute migrants arriving on Italian shores.  It was frivolous and fun. Coming home to Rome on the train from Venice with a colleague, we were trying to figure out who is the real Amal Alamuddin.  The woman we saw in Venice looked like a beautiful Barbie doll hanging on the arm of a famous Hollywood actor.  She had movie star glamour, and was popping in and out of high-fashion outfits every few hours as far as we could tell.  She never spoke, she just smiled behind her large sunglasses and flashed her rings.  Long legs and big diamonds were on display, not the brains and grit she must have.

Amal Alamuddin and George looking up after leaving Palazzo Cavalli in Venice where they had their civil wedding ceremony. Freeze frame of video shot by APTN cameraman Pietro De Cristofaro. September 30, 2014

Amal Alamuddin and George looking up after leaving Palazzo Cavalli in Venice where they had their civil wedding ceremony. Freeze frame of video shot by APTN cameraman Pietro De Cristofaro. September 29, 2014

Where did the top-notch human rights lawyer who defended Julian Assange from extradition to Sweden go?  Where was the woman who worked with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan investigating the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations?  Where was the woman who wrote this article for the Huffington Post on The Anatomy of an Unfair Trial. ?  This is the same woman who clerked for Sonia Sotomayor when she was a judge at the US Court of Appeals in New York.  Amal Alamuddin went to Oxford and then studied law at NYU. This is the Amal Alamuddin I am rooting for.

Amal Alamuddin while working as lawyer for Julian Assange

Amal Alamuddin while working as lawyer for Julian Assange

We thought George Clooney wanted to marry Amal, instead of his long train of former waitresses and show-girls, because he wanted someone smart who could share his political passions.  Is Clooney shaping her into something else?

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney head down the Grand Canal the morning after their private wedding in Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by APTN cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 28, 2014

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney head down the Grand Canal the morning after their private wedding in Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by APTN cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 28, 2014

Which leads me to the next question.  Why did George Clooney decide to have such an open, spectacle, show of a wedding?  At moments – as 30 boats raced down the Grand Canal following his water taxi— it felt more like a scene from a film than real life.  He easily could have done a more private wedding at his Villa on Lake Como. While we were there in Venice, enough information came out about the timing and events, that we knew where to go to get the shots of the couple.  So why did Clooney want to have a very public event? There have been rumors about Clooney wanting to get into politics.  I mentioned this is an earlier post, but what does he want to do, run for governor of California, or perhaps Senator?  Maybe he wants to get involved with the UN in some way.  Honestly, I have no clue. I am hoping that that Amal Alamuddin does not give up her work and get sucked into being a pretty arm decoration for George.  As far as I know she has never given any interviews since her engagement and I am dying to hear what she says about herself and her future.  There were reports in the British press that George was looking for an apartment in London so that she could continue to work.  That would be wonderful as far as I am concerned.

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin head off in the water taxi called "Amore" and pass under the Rialto Bridge as they leave Venice.  Freeze frame of video shot by Gianfranco Stara. September 29, 2014

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin head off in the water taxi called “Amore” and pass under the Rialto Bridge as they leave Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by Gianfranco Stara. September 29, 2014

 

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September 28, 2014

George Clooney – The Last Wave

George Clooney and his future bride Amal Alamuddin arrive in Venice, Italy, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.

George Clooney and his future bride Amal Alamuddin arrive in Venice, Italy, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.

I am writing this post while I rock gently in a water taxi on the Grand Canal in Venice in front of the Aman Hotel.  I am slowing getting asphyxiated on the engine fumes as we hover here.  On board are eight people, three photographers, two camerapersons, an assistant and me.  We are all waiting for the newlyweds – George Clooney and his wife Amal to wake up, get in George’s water taxi—named “Amore”– and cruise on over the Cipriani Hotel to join all their guests for brunch.   Then we will chase behind them all the way hoping for the best shots of the couple. This week I’ve been trying my hand at being a paparazzo and I must admit I’ve never had so much fun on a story.

George Clooney heading to his wedding ceremony in a water taxi in Venice.  Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 27, 2014

George Clooney heading to his wedding ceremony in a water taxi in Venice. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 27, 2014

Yesterday we spent most of the day in the water taxi chasing various elements of the Clooney story.  At dawn the APTN team boarded our first water taxi and cruised down the Grand Canal getting beauty shots of the city in the morning mist.  We left one crew in front of the bride’s hotel and then headed over to Clooney’s Hotel the Cipriani.   There was hardly anyone around the Cipriani Hotel and the concierge called out to us and offered to give us some breakfast.

Roberto Senigaglia, Concierge at the Cipriani Hotel offering us espresso and cornetti for breakfast. September 287, 2014, photo by Gianfranco Stara

Roberto Senigaglia, Concierge at the Cipriani Hotel offering us espresso and cornetti for breakfast. September 287, 2014, photo by Gianfranco Stara

The concierge at the Cipriani, Roberto Senigaglia, is absolutely charming.  Our water taxi driver pulled us into the docking area and Roberto – in his white jacket with an ear-to-ear smile brought us a plate of melt-in-your-mouth buttery cornetti followed by espressos in little porcelain cups.  Then he told us that we could relax because the action would not start until 6pm when all the guests would be leaving the hotel to go to the Aman Hotel for the big event.  So we took off, back to the Aman Hotel, off to the airport to do star arrivals, then back again to the Cipriani, where we caught George having breakfast with Cindy Crawford and her husband Rande Gerber.

By 5:30pm there were about 20 boats with journalists, camerapersons, photographers, tourists, curious on-lookers and a police boat and Finance Guard boat trying to keep us all back from the entrance. George Clooney and his guests appeared in the garden area, the men in tuxedos and the women in gorgeous floor-length dresses.  Waiters in white coats moved around them pouring glasses of champagne.  Cindy Crawford was in a sleek violet dress with a halter top. Anna Wintour had a long black and white dress with a fluffy white thing around her neck.

By 6pm there were about 10 water taxis with little purple flags on the front with the initials AG for Amal and George, one after another they pulled up at the entrance and the guests stepped down into the boats.  The loyal concierge Roberto was there helping all the women who seemed to have difficulty with their high heels and long dresses.  One woman took off her shoes and a long slit in her dress momentarily revealed a little too much leaving all the photographers on my boat debating whether or not she was wearing underwear.  (That’s what happens after 8 hours on a water taxi—the level of discourse goes down a notch or two). Bono gave a big hug to Roberto the concierge as he left, Matt Damon in sunglasses smiled and waved to all of us, as did Bill Murray.

Matt Damon waves as he steps into water taxi going to George Clooney wedding. September 27, 2014. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara

Matt Damon waves as he steps into water taxi going to George Clooney wedding. September 27, 2014. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara

When George finally got into his water taxi, the fun began.  His taxi took off followed by 30 frantic water taxis with photographers (and me) climbing on the roofs, photographers in smaller boats were shouting “George! George!  Look here George!!” as their boats scooted around George’s water taxi, his taxi charged forward into the lagoon and then the unexpected happened.

Cruise ship blocks George Clooney's way to his wedding as paparazzi in boats rush around in in Venice lagoon.  Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 27, 2014

Cruise ship blocks George Clooney’s way to his wedding as paparazzi in boats rush around in in Venice lagoon. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 27, 2014

A gigantic cruise ship, towering higher than the city of Venice blocked the way.  George’s taxis screeched to a halt, or whatever boats do when they half to stop suddenly and it was a field day for the paparazzi.  We all caught up to George’s taxi, making the area choppy withal the waves.  By that time we were all shouting “George, George, George!!”  I must say, he is a natural—he remained cool, calm, collected, waved, smiled, and chatted with his guests.  From high above the passengers on the cruise ship waved and took pictures of all of us. Finally the cruise ship passed we all charged forward and then there was a loud horn – a Venetian ferry boat blocked our way again.  By this time it seemed like a floating circus.

Paparazzi and police in Grand Canal following George Clooney's water taxi as he heads to his wedding ceremony. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 27, 2014

Paparazzi and police in Grand Canal following George Clooney’s water taxi as he heads to his wedding ceremony. Freeze frame of video shot by AP Television cameraman Gianfranco Stara. September 27, 2014

Then the ferry passed and we were all off and running – Water taxis moved around so the photographers could get the shot of George with St. Mark’s Square in the background, then suddenly jostling and splashing – we in the Grand Canal.  The place was packed, a crowd on a vaporetto (Venetian water bus) passed, and I thought the passengers would flip the boat over the all crowded so far to one side to catch a glimpse of Clooney.  As we passed under the Accademia bridge there were hundreds of people yelling “George, George” – he waved and smiled.  Venetians emerged from their elegant palaces and took photos with their phones, tourists in gondoliers looked shocked as the parade came by.   At one point we got very close and I yelled loudly “Hey George!” and he smiled and waved at me.  Yes, at me.  That was my last wave.

AP Photographer Andrew Medichini on the roof of a water taxi taking pictures of the George Clooney parade down the Grand Canal. September 27, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

AP Photographer Andrew Medichini on the roof of a water taxi taking pictures of the George Clooney parade down the Grand Canal. September 27, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

The parade rolled on, AP’s Andrew Medichini snapped away from the roof of our water taxi, I frenetically texted messages to my AP wire colleague Colleen Barry with details and color for the story.

AP's Andrew Medichini, AFP's Andreas Solaro and APTelevision's Trisha Thomas chasing George Clooney down the Grand Canal. September 27, 2014. Photo by Luca Bruno

AP’s Andrew Medichini, AFP’s Andreas Solaro and APTelevision’s Trisha Thomas chasing George Clooney down the Grand Canal. September 27, 2014. Photo by Luca Bruno

Finally we arrived at the Aman Hotel – journalists and camera crews were so crowded on the dock across the way, I thought they might sink it.  APTN cameraman Luigi Navarra was rolling Live on the action. George then climbed out of his taxi, waved to all of us, rubbed his hands together in anticipation and went in to get married.

George Clooney waves goodbye to photographers before heading into his wedding at the Aman Hotel in Venice. September 27, 2014. Freeze frame of video shot by Gianfranco Stara per AP Television

George Clooney waves goodbye to photographers before heading into his wedding at the Aman Hotel in Venice. September 27, 2014. Freeze frame of video shot by Gianfranco Stara per AP Television

And I am still sitting here in the water taxi, and the newlyweds still have not appeared.  I guess this is the life of a paparazzo.

Trisha Thomas in water taxi outside Cipriani Hotel in Venice. September 27, 2014

Trisha Thomas in water taxi outside Cipriani Hotel in Venice. September 27, 2014

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