The beauty of living in Italy

A few days after the end of a fantastic Milano Design Week, where Milan blossomed around the world leading event in furniture and home design, let me reflect on one of the reasons why for me there’s no place like home: the quality of our homes.

I have lived in Germany, United States, Spain and Switzerland, and, outside the very top end of the real estate market – and often not even there, as plenty of Silicon Valley millionaires are known to live in rickety wood-frame houses, whose anti-seismic qualities are their only redeeming virtue – I have yet to see a place where the quality of urban living is as high as Italy. Our architects, designers, furniture makers are the reason why everybody aspires to “Italian living”. And they tell me that their Italian customers are the ones pushing them towards excellence: they won’t tolerate a lackadaisical design, a slapdash assembly, an imperfect color scheme. Having an exacting clientele at home makes our home design industry a worldwide winner.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank the superlative interior design team for the Milan home I recently furnished and moved into. Many people played a role, but here are the key ones:

A few images of the work in progress and the end product.

20140325_173627VLUU L110  / Samsung L110VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

Next Generation Women Leaders: Paris, May 22-24, 2014

SandrineIs your sister, cousin, daughter, niece or friend a university student or young graduate with up to six years’ work experience? Then suggest that she apply to Next Generation Women Leaders, a McKinsey workshop in Paris, May 22-24. The deadline for applications is March 23.

I haven’t seen the full program and speakers’ list yet, but I know from the NGWL Facebook page that participants will be able to meet the super-accomplished Sandrine Devillard (pictured; bio here) as well as other leaders within and outside the Firm. You can refer more participants here (and earn the chance to win an iPad Mini); on top of the event itself, there will also be a series of online follow-ups for applicants who did not get to go to Paris.

Workshops like this are a great way for women to develop their leadership profile. Remmber, the earlier you start thinking of yourself as a leader, the earlier you actually become one!

On Snowpiercer, post-apocalyptic tales, and cult movies

SnowpiercerAs a poet and politician named Dante Alighieri descends through the circles of Hell, ascends Purgatory and reaches the highest sphere of Heaven, so a rebel leader named Curtis Everett moves from the tail of the Train hosting the planet’s only human survivors to the Holy Locomotive that drives it in a looping route around a frozen Earth.

Dante starts out lost in his dark wood, hungry for knowledge and salvation, meets a large set of characters placed in the afterlife according to their actions and sins in life, and ends his journey with a vision of “the Love which moves the sun and the other stars”. Curtis starts out in the filthy windowless final carriage of the train where he has spent half his life, driven by hatred and revenge, and ends his journey in a luminous perpetual-motion engine meeting Wilford, the creator of the train and the dystopian society it hosts, a microcosm where everybody has their own place based on the price they were able to afford to pay to board the train and escape death.

snowpiercer-poster-chris-evansSnowpiercer is a 2013 South Korean movie directed by Bong Joon-ho, based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, written in the early 1980s by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. Oppression, violence, food and water, addiction, clairvoyance, self-mutilation, class war, revolt: just when you think the story cannot cram one more ingredient into its plot, a new twist takes place – say, child abduction or cannibalism - and glues you to the screen.

You know I am a fan of end-of-civilization tales, but Snowpiercer stunned me. It has the guts to take a few hundred survivors of a man-made climactic catastrophe and to truly, really do away with them in a spectacular final train wreck. (And perhaps that is all good: who would want to live in what looks like Panem from the Hunger Games, sequentially crammed onto a high-speed train?) We are drawn to post-apocalyptic stories because they force our imagination to answer uncomfortable questions. What would I do in such extreme straits? Would I survive, maintain my dignity? Would I be able to defend my family, my friends? Would I rise to be a leader for them?

Cinematically and visually, this movie’s claustrophobic appeal recalls such classics as Brazil (1985), The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), and Strange Days (1995). It rarely happens anymore, but after two hours in the movie theater, I came out feeling I wanted to watch it all over again. Snowpiercer is scheduled to be released in the United States on June 27, 2014. It will become a cult movie. Don’t miss it.

Italian politics: more fog

matteorenziTomorrow morning, barring surprises, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano will give Matteo Renzi, who has led the Democratic Party for the past two months, the task to form a new government.

Last year, I wrote that the government formed in the spring of 2013 – whose leader turned out to be Enrico Lettawould most likely have a minimal mandate, in view of its foreseeably short lifespan, and that electoral reform would be its centerpiece. I predicted, alas correctly, that fiscal reform, economic growth, and jobs, as crucial as they were, just seemed too big a mountain to climb in this political weather, and nothing much would happen there. But, as it turned out, we do not even have the much-awaited electoral reform; and while our Constitutional Court hacked away at some of the issues with the previous law, it has de facto reverted us to a proportional system that only the smaller parties really want, and that would merely perpetuate our current political stalemate if we were to vote under its rules.

It has been two years and three months since Silvio Berlusconi stopped being Prime Minister (and almost three months since he lost his Senate seat). While he was in charge, I held out hope that, once he had left power, many things would change; women would feel whole again; Italy would undergo a civic and creative Renaissance. But, in spite of valiant efforts by the capable Mr. Monti and the brave Mr. Letta, we feel like we only wasted more time. Good luck to the bold Mr. Renzi: he and his team will enjoy a very short honeymoon before they deliver – or disappoint.

Teaching children about money: the Poverty Week experiment

I caught up on Stanford Business magazine today. Let me share a quick story told in the Class Notes written by my classmate John D. Lee. He is a financial advisor, and may have a professional perspective on money that most of us lack. Yet, all of you readers can replicate the experiment with your families, if you wish.

In appreciation for all that we have (and just as an interesting experiment), we attempted to approximate what it would be like to live at the poverty level for one week. We confined ourselves to using one bedroom, one bathroom, and the kitchen as our entire family’s living quarters (though our dog, Nero, chose to ignore those rules). Except for when our jobs required it, we stopped using iPods/iPhones, the internet, and cable TV/TiVo. Our total food budget for the family was $108 for the week, and we made a donation to a local homeless shelter with the money we saved. While none of us particularly enjoyed the experience (and eating so much beans and rice), I thought it was good for our 9-year-old son, Archie, and we all came away more appreciative of our good fortune. Archie’s insight was that the thing he liked the least about the experience was the loss of freedom and choice. Truth!

Spain, women, and reproductive rights: a battleground, again

alberto-ruiz-gallardonIf we needed proof of how fragile and reversible our rights, women’s rights, are today, even in the West, we had it last Friday, when Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón put forth a draft law to set back abortion legislation by 25 years. You can read the details here, but if the law passes, you will only be able to get an abortion in Spain if you have been raped, or if your physical or mental health is at risk.

I am angry to see women’s rights as a political battleground, again; angry that governments seek consensus by legislating women’s bodies; angry that politicians think it is their God-given right to mandate that any woman should be forced to live through the confusion, pain and anger of an unwanted pregnancy, and not be able to choose the lesser pain, if not illegally.

Legislatures where women’s choices are so harshly limited should start introducing some restrictions on what men can do with their bodies, too. See the initiative by Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who introduced a bill to require men who seek erectile dysfunction drug prescriptions to see a sex therapist, undergo cardiological tests, and receive counseling on the viability of celibacy as a lifestyle option (read more here and here). Says Sen. Turner:

The men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor. It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs. When a man makes a crucial decision about his health and his body, he should be fully aware of the alternative options and the lifetime repercussions of that decision.

This is not irony, this is not tongue-in cheek: this is anger, fighting back through all available means. So let’s remember that we can take to the streets in protest, but we can also use Parliaments and bills and all the legislative apparatus to get lawmakers to understand why we’re so angry.

Freedom badgeAs Jane Smiley wrote after reading a hundred novels, “I saw that the world I thought was established and secure, at least in the West, is more fragile than I thought, because it is newer than I realized.”

We are not established and secure. Keep your guard up. Fight back.

In favor of wearing whatever the hell you want, part 3

We had our own Janet Yellen moment in Europe yesterday: the third swearing-in of Angela Merkel as Germany’s Chancellor. Just the same way as Yellen “Wore Same Dress Twice, Upsetting Local Idiot” (Jezebel), Merkel was criticized (picture below from the front page of Corriere della Sera) for wearing a very similar outfit to what she wore for previous ceremonies of the same type.

So what? They are smart and practical women. They standardize their looks because it saves them precious time, even if they become predictable. I am sure a lot of powerful men have favorite outfits too, and they don’t spend a lot of time worrying whether they’ve worn the same thing before.

Plus, Merkel has been photographed wearing quite different gear to the opera (see this post in case you don’t remember). So why, why can’t women yet wear whatever the hell they want?

Yellen-outfits

Merkel swearing-in outfit