Your Italian island guide for 2018 — but book by Dec. 31 or your travel budget will regret it

Arcipelago di La Maddalena, featuring this Cala Coticcio, is just one of Italy's underrated islands.

Arcipelago di La Maddalena, featuring Cala Coticcio, boast some of Italy’s underrated islands.


Here’s a little travel tip for everyone. If you’re planning on traveling in 2018, don’t wait until 2018 to plan your travel. I’ve read numerous places that travel costs will jump next year. Many struggling airlines (that’s become a redundancy in recent years) will increase their airfares to an average of 3.5 percent, according to the 2018 Global Travel Forecast. Hotels will rise 3.7 percent. It’s primarily due to projected higher fuel costs and an increase in travel demand. It all means you start planning your travel sooner.

Like now.

I am here to help. If you’re already tired of fall weather and daydreaming at your desk of sky blue seas and boats docked in secluded coves, you need an island vacation. Instead of the Caribbean, where there’s not much left, or Greece, where there’s not much left unspoiled. Try my recommendation.

Italy.

Its islands are vastly underrated. Quick. Name two. No, Sicily and Sardinia don’t count. Those are more regions than islands. Sicily and Sardinia have their own islands. OK, you just chose Capri. No, Corsica belongs to France. Can’t think of others? Read on.

Italy’s islands may not have the sugar-white sand of the Caribbean or the variety of Greece, but they have their own charm. Because you totally bombed my little quiz, you know they are naturally less crowded. Many are as unspoiled as they were before Allied and Axis forces bombed mainland Italy into rubble during World War II.

Plus, the food is pretty good.

I have been to seven. I have many more to go. Here’s a little guide, in alphabetical order and unvarnished with some bad mixed with the very good. I have written blogs about some of them and inserted the links if you want more detail and obnoxious commentary. So print it and put it on your wall to ponder as you watch the clock in your office while rain or snow pound the pavement outside.

I wrote that Capri "is the prettiest island in Europe."

I wrote that Capri “is the prettiest island in Europe.”


CAPRI

In my blog from three years ago, I called Capri “the prettiest island in Europe.” It better be. The crowds it gets it should put it on the same level with Bora Bora. It’s not for a number of reasons.

Namely, Capri has no beaches. It is surrounded by rock. Giant boulders and uncomfortable pebbles separate you from some of the bluest water in Europe. It is 27 miles off the coast of Naples and tourism is the lone industry. The only things Capri (pronounced CAH-pree) dumps in the sea are tourists.

You can place your towel on the flattest rock you can find and pretend you’re a Hindu fakir. One beach had lounge chairs selling for 21 euros but they were sold out — in October. I didn’t even see an unoccupied rock to place my beach towel. In Piazza Umberto I, the main square people go to see and be seen, I saw people bumping into people’s forks as they dined. I sometimes waited 30-45 minutes for a minibus that climbs the mountain which composes this island.

In summer, Capri becomes a parody of itself. This is an island 4 miles x 1.8 miles and in summer it gets 10,000 tourists a day. Nowhere on Manhattan island is it this crowded.

But if you don’t come for the beaches or the food, come for the views. That minibus ride is worth the wait, even if your bed & breakfast, as mine was, isn’t on top of the hill. Each switchback the bus made I got a new and improved view of the sea below.

The Capri countryside (yes, there is one) is worth exploring.

The Capri countryside (yes, there is one) is worth exploring.


For a reverse view, pay the 18 euros for a beach tour of the island. You get a good history lesson from the learned ship captain, and some stop for dips in the sea.

Capri has three parts: Capri town where most tourists congregate, Anacapri where most locals live and the countryside. My B&B, the Alle Ginestre, was in Anacapri and had terrific views of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. I highly recommend finding your lodging in Anacapri. It’s where you’ll find schools and kids kicking soccer balls in the street and locals sipping coffee at sidewalk cafes.

Also, don’t pass up the Torta Caprese, Capri’s local chocolate cake.

he Weather Channel ranked Favignana's waters as the 13th bluest in the world.

The Weather Channel ranked Favignana’s waters as the 13th bluest in the world.


FAVIGNANA

Marina and I went here twice this year, we liked it so much. We went for my birthday in March and again in October, carefully avoiding the summer high season. Favignana’s waters make Capri’s look like the North Sea. The Weather Channel ranked it 13th in its list of Bluest Waters in the World. Favignana earned it. Its water is as turquoise as around French Polynesia.

The largest of the three Egadi Islands, Favignana is an easy get from Rome: a 70-minute flight to Trapani on Sicily’s west coast, then a 30-minute hydroplane ride. What greets you are 14 square miles of island tranquility. It is spider webbed by narrow two-lane roads where the main mode of transportation is bicycle. The island is as flat as an Italian model’s stomach and touring the island isn’t a strain for even the fattest of tourist. Few places in Italy can you spend hours cruising the countryside with the only sounds being the birds above and the sea below.

Cala Azzurra, on the southeast coast, took credit for the No. 13 ranking and it is indeed beautiful. It’s a soft bend of the island seen from a cliff, with a precarious walk down to the rocks. However, Cala Rossa on the northeast coast should push Azzurra for the honor. While most beaches were all rock, like on Capri, last month we did find a sandy beach at Punta San Nicola, even closer to the main town.

Don’t come in March. The water temperature was 52 degrees. In October, the water was swimmable and as clear as any I’ve seen in Europe although not quite as turquoise as in spring.

Marina and I. Bike is the main form of transport on Favignana.

Marina and I. Bike is the main form of transport on Favignana.


Whenever you go, be sure to hang in Piazza Madrice. It’s Favignana’s nerve center. Go to quaint, friendly Caffe Aegus where you can sip their house Nero d’Avalo and chat with old-timers who left the mainland for Favignana long ago.

We have twice eaten at Trattoria da Papu’, maybe Favignana’s most popular seafood restaurant where the specialty is busiate di profumo di mare. Busiate is western Sicily’s signature pasta, a thick, twisty noodle they cover in a big mess of shellfish. We needed reservations in October, when the large outdoor seating was filled by 9 p.m.

A great place to stay is Isola Mia. It’s a 15-minute walk to the piazza and run by Jose Tammaro, a touring musician, and his wife. Both are affable and friendly and put out a breakfast spread of meats, cheeses and cornettos, Italy’s signature croissants.

Unlike Capri, just to the south, Ischia has beautiful beaches.

Unlike Capri, just to the south, Ischia has beautiful beaches.


ISCHIA

While tourists flock to Capri, Italians flock to Ischia, Capri’s bigger cousin to the north. It doesn’t have Capri’s view or international cache but it has the sandy beaches and authentic Italian vibe.

I came here in the mid-2000s and stayed in a nice hotel (of which its name escapes me) with a glorious pool not far from an equally tranquil beach. The beach and pool were so mesmerizing, I didn’t bother with what attracts many Italians.

Thermal baths.

Ischia is lousy with them. Take a water taxi to the south side of the island to Maronti beach and the Il Sorgeto cove where a thermal spring awaits. If you want to really pamper yourself at a cheap rate, you can go to Negombo, which sports 12 pools and thermal pools ranging from 75-97 degrees, a private beach and 500 exotic plant species. Price is a very reasonable 33 euros a day.

Ischia’s waterfront is quite lovely despite not offering Capri’s jaw-dropping views from above. Small whitewashed buildings separate the sky-blue bay from cliffs hovering over the town. Dominating the view is Castello Aragones, the 15th century castle built by King Alfonso of Aragon who also added the causeway and accessory ramp that exist to this day. This is a well-worn fortification. Gerone I of the Syracuse republic in Sicily first built a fortress here in 474 BC.

The restaurants are more reasonably priced than in Capri and most offer rabbit (coniglio), a specialty in Ischia. Afterward, wash your palate with Rucolino, a local green liqueur, especially if you have a hankering for licorice.

Like Capri, Ischia is easily reached by a steady stream of hydrofoils from Naples.

Lampedusa is more than just for refugees.

Lampedusa is more than just for refugees.


LAMPEDUSA

It’s closer to Africa than it is to mainland Italy and has made international news as the first stop in refugees’ desperate, and often, ill-fated boat journeys. Waters around this island are littered with drowning victims.

When I lived in Rome the first time from 2001-03, it was before the big wave of refugees poured in. I came to seek an Italian island experience with sugar-white sand beaches like the Caribbean and the kind of heat that requires an act of the military to get you up from said sand.

Lampedusa is 180 miles south of Sicily and easily reached with flights from Rome via Palermo. I was told by a Rome friend that Lampedusa was the perfect “simple Island” getaway. I wrote in my journal that “The only thing simple about Lampedusa was it simply sucks.”

It is 160 miles off the coast of Tunisia and is dry as a lunar landscape and just as barren. I went in August 2002 and I could not see a speck of sand under the cheek-to-cheek, towel-to-towel flesh mob on the beaches. The village of Lampedusa was chock-a-block with souvenir shops, T-shirt emporiums and hack singers butchering “Time in a Bottle.” It looked like a satire on Italian tourism.

What no one writes about is the island’s main mode of transport, the motorino, seemingly has no regulations. Each one is as noise as a Harley 1800 cruising a California freeway. With people buzzing around the island until 3 a.m., Lampedusa is the only island I’ve visited that’s noisier than Manhattan. It was like being on the infield of the Indy 500 or living inside a bumble bee’s nest. I couldn’t get away from it.

The north side of the island is as desolate as the south side is overcrowded. At the time, a putrid public dump extinguished any delicious aromas drifting up from the Mediterranean below. I don’t recall seeing a single village.

Lampedusa has nice beaches when it's not crowded.

Lampedusa has nice beaches when it’s not crowded.


Still, after five days I warmed to Lampedusa. Its beaches are worth it. Spiaggia di Coniglio has been ranked among the top 10 in the world. It’s a gorgeous slice of white sand in a cove you’ve seen in tourist posters. I saw an equally good beach at Cala Madonna 15 miles out of town. Just go in September after the mobs have left.

The island is governed by Sicily meaning it’s Sicilian meaning you get the great Sicilian desserts. Stroll along Via Roma, the main drag, with a granita or a cassata. Or sit outside in one of the plethora of cafes and eat one of the famed cannolis.

Also, even if it is crowded, it’s crowded with Italians. You still feel you’re getting away from wherever you’re from. You have no worries about getting in a bar fight about politics.

Parco Nazionale dell'Arcipelago di La Maddalena off the north coast of Sardinia contain just some of Italy's underrated islands.

Parco Nazionale dell’Arcipelago di La Maddalena off the north coast of Sardinia.


MADDALENA

Again, if you come to Sardinia, do NOT come in the summer, particularly August. Italians pour over from the mainland during one of their two extended vacations a year. It’s as crowded as a pope’s coronation.

After visiting Lampedusa in 2002, later that September I took the boat from Civitavecchia, 50 miles northwest of Rome, to Sardinia. Prices were less than August. So were the crowds. The water was just as warm. The sun just as bright.

The highlight of a trip that had me circumvent the north half of the island and cross back through the spectacular Sardi hinterland, was a side trip to Arcipelago di La Maddalena. It’s a series of seven islands, the lone lands still existing from a valley that once connected Sardinia with Corsica, seven miles to the north, and is now under water.

Located off Sardinia’s northeast coast, a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Palau, Maddalena is subject to winds. While in September they were low, the winds carved natural formations in the granite that make the beaches unique in Europe.

They also formed numerous individual bays bordered by cozy, romantic beaches. I just looked in my journal from that week 15 years ago and I called the beaches on the island, “the best I’ve seen in Southern Europe outside Santorini.” I wrote further:

“Each turn of the road had a car park where you could pull over and take pictures of tiny bays individually carved by wind-washed rock.The water was (so) clear you could see the bottom 50 feet down and four shades of blue: cobalt, royal, turquoise, blue-green.”

If you haven’t heard much about Maddalena, it may because its romantic image is smudged by the presence of a huge U.S. naval base. An anchor the size of some tuna boats sits on shore as your ferry approaches. The Navy doesn’t have an overriding presence. Locals I talked to said the sailors are respectful, mature and reasonably sober.

A big consideration with Maddalena: a car is a must. Sardinia’s public transportation is extremely limited and I saw nothing on Maddalena. A rental car is highly recommended.

Ponza is the closest island to Rome.

Ponza is the closest island to Rome.


PONZA

Tired of the crowds and heat of Rome? Come to Ponza. It’s the closest island to the capital. Just take a regional train 50 minutes from Rome’s Termini station to the town of Anzio, Emperor Nero’s birthplace, and then a 90-minute to 2 ½-hour ferry ride, depending on the boat.

Ponza is a volcanic island which has its pluses and minuses. The biggest plus is its jagged outline provides tons of tiny, secluded coves; the biggest negative is hardened volcanic ash is lousy for sunbathing. Still, find a spare rock and lay down a towel. The Tyrrhenian Sea is a gorgeous blue and warm from June through September.

I went one September and loved the laid-back nature of Ponza town, void of package tourists and side-by-side souvenir stands. Its quaint harbor is backed by small buildings of red and blue and yellow and white. Ponza is popular for Romans seeking a weekend away but during the week it is your own paradise to explore.

A good public transportation system took me to the north side of the island where I had lunch with local villagers before descending down a narrow, switchback path to a beautiful secluded cove below. No entry fee. No lounge chairs. Just a royal blue sea and plenty of space to lay down a towel, however precarious it may be to lay on it.

The pool at the four-star Albergo Chiara Beach.

The pool at the four-star Albergo Chiara Beach.


I splurged and stayed at the luxurious four-star Hotel Chiaia di Luna, featuring a head-turning swimming pool overlooking the bay, port and Palmarola, the other inhabited island nearby. It also had 2,000 meters of terrace and free shuttle service to the port.
Procida was the site of the hit 1995 film "Il Postino." Photo by Marina Pascucci

Procida was the site of the hit 1995 film “Il Postino.” Photo by Marina Pascucci


PROCIDA

This is what island life was like in Italy in the 1950s. Fishermen mending fishing nets on old boats. Eating a pizza on a quiet, semi-secluded harbor. Old men in hats sipping wine and chatting on street corners. This step back in time is the polar opposite of the jet-set theme park that is Capri 10 miles to the south.

“Il Postino,” the movie about the love-sick postman in 1950 that was Oscar nominated for Best Picture in 1995, was filmed here. It hasn’t changed much since. The same pink dockside building where the postman hung out still exists on the harbor where I had a couple of great Sicilian pizzas for 4-8 euros.

Marina and I came here in May to celebrate our two-year anniversary. It lived up to its hype as a romantic paradise. We dined on a limestone cliff above the harbor at La Lampara where the ravioli al sapore di mare (ravioli stuffed with shrimp and ricotta cheese) was simply the best ravioli of my life. Nearly every menu features mussels and calamari as thick as lobster tails.

You get Neapolitan pizza everywhere on Procida.

You get Neapolitan pizza everywhere on Procida.


We took a bus up to the north end of the island where we spent a day combing the sandy beach and sipping cocktails at a dockside bar in the sun. Procida (PRO-chee-duh) is big with the boating crowd but doesn’t have the stuffiness of towns where you’re measured by the size of your yacht.

Topping the romantic weekend was a stay at the four-star Albergo La Vigna, high above a hill where a courtyard looks down at the sea below. Highlighting La Vigna is a spa you can block off for a, um, private hour to yourselves.

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Naples: Italy’s most chaotic city is a walk through a violent past via two tough neighborhoods

The Spanish Quarters has been Naples' most notorious neighborhood for 400 years. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The Spanish Quarters has been Naples’ most notorious neighborhood for 400 years. Photo by Marina Pascucci


NAPLES, Italy — Italy has always been a feminine country. That’s a compliment. Its beautiful. It’s seductive. It’s warm. If you think about it, Rome’s seven hills even resemble breasts; New York’s skyscrapers resemble penises. It all fits. So it’s natural to compare Italy’s cities with women. Milan is the snooty catwalk model, dressed for the gods with an attitude to match. Rome is the sexy showgirl. Her revealing outfit and engaging smile promises a week you’ll never forget. Florence? She loves the arts. She’s into nature. She wears comfortable shoes.

Meanwhile, Naples is Italy’s slut. Its best days are in the past but she still has a lusty air about her. She looks sweaty and tired and is scruffy around the edges. A cigarette hangs from the corner of her mouth. Yet in a moment’s notice she can turn on the charm and be the funnest day you’ll ever have. And after a few glasses of Aglianico wine, she starts looking pretty good again.

As Naples digressed, Italy’s famous proverb for its third-largest city still holds true:

“See Naples and die.”

You can take that proverb two ways, of course. Experience the city by the bay and fade away knowing you’ve seen the best the planet has to offer. Or you can experience the city by the bay and get gunned down.

Naples’ history of violence stretches back to when it was swapped out between the Greeks, Byzantines and Normans, then when the Spanish treated it as its own public torture chamber and most recently as the Camorra crime family destroyed Naples’ rep on the silver screen. Italians view Naples as Americans view Detroit — except Naples’ pizza is better.

However, I’ve always loved Naples like the woman it once was and still can be. I love its lustiness, its passion, its chaos. I love how every conversation among Neapolitans sounds like they’re accusing each other of sleeping with each others’ wives. Its notorious drivers really aren’t homicidal, and the subway is clean and efficient. They may have the most passionate soccer fans in Italy. Also, the pizza is indeed stupendous. Yeah, its bay front has lost its luster from the time when Ancient Romans built villas on what was considered the most beautiful bay in Europe. It’s more of a bustling ferry harbor than a romantic rendezvous point these days, and Naples is short on jaw-dropping churches and museums. But it’s Italy’s most mysterious city, cloaked in a cloud of poverty and danger that puts you on edge more than any city in the country.

Elena Ferrante wrote four novels about life in post-war Naples.

Elena Ferrante wrote four novels about life in post-war Naples.


Marina, my adventurous girlfriend and photographer supreme, and I came down last weekend on the lure of the written word. Marina was reading Part IV of Elena Ferrante’s terrific four-book series about life in poverty in Naples after World War II. I came to explore the Spanish Quarters, Naples’ most notorious neighborhood illuminated even more by Peter Robb’s exhaustive tome on the city, “Street Fight in Naples,” which I just finished.

We had both been to Naples numerous times. I remember my first trip in 2001. It was before Christmas and the churches were all decorated with presepi, the miniature nativity scenes popular all over Italy. I walked toward one to get a closer look. The vision seemed blurred. As I approached I learned why.

The window was pockmarked with bullet holes.

Other times Naples served as a tasty connection on my way to Bay of Naples islands such as Ischia, Capri and Procida or sojourns down the Amalfi Coast to the south. I’d leave enough time to stop at Da Michele, arguably the best — and possibly first — pizzeria in all of Italy.

Rione Luzzatti. Photos by Marina Pascucci

Rione Luzzatti. Photos by Marina Pascucci


Naples is convenient. It’s only a 65-minute train ride from Rome, and we emerged from Stazione Centrale to searing heat. Fall has arrived in Italy and in Rome I’m wearing long-sleeve shirts for the first time in six months. I looked at Naples’ temperature on my cell phone. It read 75 degrees. It felt like 95. Naples always feel like it’s 95.

Welcome to Italy’s third circle of hell.

We didn’t cross the River Styx. Instead we crossed Piazza Garibaldi which is much dirtier. The smell of urine hit me like descending a New York subway staircase on a hot summer night. We walked east down Via Taddeo da Sessa, away from the crowds in Centro Storico west of the train station. We walked below Napoli Poggioreale, the prison which houses many of the Camorra crime gang who actually get convicted.

Marina was leading me to Rione Luzzatti, the teeming ghetto where Ferrante grew up. I have a perverse fascination with the soft underbelly of touristy cities. I like to peel back the layer the city doesn’t want outsiders to see, such as last year when I wrote a three-part series about Tor Bella Monaca, Rome’s most dangerous neighborhood [LINK].

Rione Luzzatti is far from tourists in  Naples. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Rione Luzzatti is far from tourists in Naples. Photo by Marina Pascucci


Rione Luzzatti has the same feel of a neighborhood that has lost its soul. Apartment buildings with peeled paint expose bricks that look ready to fall at any moment. Pink and green walls haven’t seen a coat of paint since the Germans bombed the city. Laundry hangs from every window sill. Holes pockmark the walls. Four potted plants with pretty flowers look so terribly out of place on a balcony, like a fashion model in prison.

Some old tired-looking women sat on folding chairs in front of shops without customers. Six youths sat on the stoop of a municipality. In the back of a church is a concrete volleyball court. Barbed wire surrounds vacant courtyards.

We saw a piazza where chubby little boys in Napoli’s sky blue soccer jerseys kicked around a soccer ball next to a truck selling panzaratti, big pieces of fried bread covered with sugar. Locals ate and gossiped in a dialect as foreign to Marina as it was to me.

“This is the true Naples,” Marina said.

A motor scooter in Rione Luzzatti. Photo by Marina Pascucci

A motor scooter in Rione Luzzatti. Photo by Marina Pascucci


We walked into a giant, beat-up courtyard between two apartment complexes. Rocks. Dead grass. Litter. Looking again out of place was a beautiful glass display case showing the Madonna of Lourdes from 1957, surrounded by pink and yellow flowers. Nearby was a motor scooter.

“Typical Vespa,” Marina said.

We walked by another motor scooter on blocks.

“This is a typical Vespa for Naples.”

Elena Ferrante was born in 1944 and writes about Elena Greco and her friendship with Lila Cerullo growing up in Rione Luzzatti where the Camorra had a constant presence. The series follows Greco’s path to university in Pisa to become a writer. The series continues through the 2000s when the Camorra grew in strength.

Religion still plays a big role in Naples. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Religion still plays a big role in Naples. Photo by Marina Pascucci


Modern Naples tries to identify itself with pizza, its bay and its warm hospitality. But as much as anything it’s identified with the Camorra, Italy’s oldest organized-crime syndicate that dates back 400 years. It became immortalized in journalist Roberto Saviano’s 2006 book “Gomorrah,” a detailed look at an organization that made a fortune on drugs and knock-off clothes and intimidated the bejesus out of anyone who stood in its path. How does having quick-drying cement poured down your throat grab you? That’s one of the Camorra’s methods of elimination.

The book spun into a popular TV series that belies Italy’s reputation as a peaceful country. This is Naples. It’s where certain neighborhoods still kiss the muzzle of a gun and the top authority on the block does not wear a badge.

The Camorra, or, as the Neapolitan dialect refers to it, O’sistema (The System), is still alive and very well today. The Wall Street Journal reported that since the 1990s Northern Italian businesses have paid the Camorra to dump their industrial toxic waste rather than pay higher rates for safer disposal means. The Camorra has reportedly dumped 10 million tons of industrial nuclear waste, causing cancer to rise dramatically in Naples’ outskirts, particularly among children.

From Jan. 1-Feb. 8, 2016, nine people were shot and killed in connection with the Camorra. Eight more were gunned down from May 25-June 4. Even the army marched in.

The Camorra isn’t like the Cosa Nostra in Sicily or the ‘ndrangheta in Calabria. Those are closer-knit families. The Camorra is a loose collection of gangs fighting turf wars in and around Naples. The latest trend crime officials see are baby gangs, with armed soldiers as young as 12 and bosses of 16.

Saviano, who has been under police protection ever since his book’s publication, recently told La Repubblica, the Rome-based national newspaper, “Here normal government is a daily war linked to drugs fought by combatants who are not even of age and supported by the tradition of omerta (mafia code of silence). We must stop treating Naples like a normal city. It’s not one. Neapolitans are forced to keep their heads down because they are living under gunfire.”

From Sicily to the Alps, everyone in Italy considers Naples Italy’s most dangerous city. That’s a little misleading. Much of it is due to the Camorra’s ferocious reputation which solidifies every week on Italian televisions. However, the Camorra is not a threat to outsiders. Unless you screw them on a business deal or one of their wives, you’re going to be safe. From a world standpoint, Naples isn’t bad. According to the Crime Index’s mid-2017 report, Naples is the 65th most dangerous city in the world, behind such places as Marseille, France, and Townsville, Australia. Naples isn’t even the most dangerous city in Italy, according to the Index. Catania, Sicily, somehow, is higher at No. 61.

Naples is, however, No. 1 in Italy in robberies, according to ISTAT, Italy’s statistical arm, and it’s in dire financial straits. It is $1.36 billion in debt and has an unemployment rate of 22.6 percent compared to Italy’s 10.7. Unemployment among youth is 53.6 percent. Bloomberg Press compared Naples to Detroit, and you know that’s not a good sign.

Photo by Marina Pascucci

Photo by Marina Pascucci


Naples’ reputation for mind-bending chaos is well earned. This place makes Rome look like Geneva. Unwilling to walk back in the heat, we took a seat at a bus stop on the main road. Behind the bench were empty Peroni beer bottles, plastic water bottles, cigarettes boxes, an old shirt. Then again, I don’t remember seeing a trash can anywhere in the neighborhood.

At this lovely garden spot we waited. And waited. And waited. The bench offered no shelter for a sun that always feels in Naples as if it’s 100 yards above you instead of 100 million miles. No buses. In one hour we saw one go the opposite direction. Finally a car pulled up and an old man behind the wheel asked us, “Going to the train station? I’ll give you a ride for a euro each.”

I thanked the man and told him we waited an hour for a bus. He smiled and said, “When the pope passes, the bus passes.” He explained that he drives around the neighborhood and gives rides to people tired of waiting. In the back seat was a young couple: a pretty long-haired blonde with a bolt in her lower lip and a boy with a ball cap and sagging black jeans.

The four of us got out and entered Piazza Garibaldi. This has become a nerve center for African immigrants and the side streets spoking into the piazza are filled with more black faces than South Bronx.

The girl looked behind us and said, “Guarda,” and pulled down the skin below her eye with her thumb, the Italian gesture for “watch out.”

The Spanish Quarters. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The Spanish Quarters. Photo by Marina Pascucci


We took the beautiful Metro subway, complete with white and turquoise mosaics on the walls, to the Toledo station, the jump off point for the Spanish Quarters. We didn’t have to ask for directions. We knew we had arrived when we saw a maze of alleys covered in laundry and banners strung across passageways so narrow that people in buildings on opposite sides could shake hands. This is what happens when the streets are laid out 3,000 years ago by Greeks who merely needed space for horses and wheelbarrows. What the Greeks didn’t know was that today 14,000 people would be crammed into 8.6 million square feet, just a little larger than Disneyland.

Whole chickens hung by their feet in butcher shops. Red chili peppers covered a street stand. The smell of garlic and pork filled the air.

Photo by Marina Pascucci

Photo by Marina Pascucci


“This is like a casbah,” Marina said.

Just past a piazza we entered the maw of a huge mob waiting to get into Trattoria Da Nennella. Plates on the outdoor tables were filled with crayfish the size of lobsters and cascading baskets of fresh fruit.

“Real Neapolitan food and cheap prices,” said a woman with a Neapolitan accent waiting to get in.

Saving ourselves for Da Michele later, we took an outdoor table at a tiny bar called Pisa Dog. Cuban music blared from inside where a youth served us up a draft beer and a bitter for all of 6 euros. We sat next to two young Frenchmen in for the big Napoli-Inter Milan soccer match that night. Naples, despite its unemployment and constant cloud of Camorra, is in a good mood. Napoli is in first place and favored by many to win only its third title in history and its first since 1990. In Italy, soccer can make you forget.

Me and Marina at Pisa Dog in the Spanish Quarters.

Me and Marina at Pisa Dog in the Spanish Quarters.


We talked about Italian soccer and American politics in brilliant sunshine with cool music, cooler drinks and a lively, happy crowd. We could’ve been in Rome’s Piazza Navona, Paris’ Montparnasse or Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.

But we were in Naples’ Spanish Quarters, a neighborhood with a history as notorious and violent as any in Europe.

It took its name from being the headquarters of the Spanish garrison when Spain ruled Naples from 1503-1860. The Spanish used this central location to help quell any Neapolitan revolts. They wanted Naples to be its new Mediterranean metropolis but it found a run-down city with a lousy infrastructure, crowded neighborhoods lacking in water, sewage and housing. The center of Naples was Via Toledo, still the nerve center of the Spanish Quarters. For 400 years it has represented Naples at its most chaotic. The French writer, Stendhal, visited in 1817 and called it “the most crowded and the gayest street in the universe.”

Unemployment for youth in Naples is 53.6 percent. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Unemployment for youth in Naples is 53.6 percent. Photo by Marina Pascucci


It housed the Spanish garrison for more than 300 years as they liked the location under the mulberry trees above the royal palace, the port and Castel Nuovo, the 13th century castle. The Spanish laid out narrower parallel streets and built atop the neighborhood. Soon, the Spanish Quarters in the 16th century was arguably the most crowded neighborhood in Europe.

With the influx of foreign military personnel, the biggest industry in the Spanish Quarters became sex. Wrote Robb in “Street Fight in Naples”: “A woman from the Quarters was a prostitute unless she could show reason to believe otherwise.” Fights often broke out between the Spanish and Neapolitans and killings were frequent. A Spanish soldier had a better chance surviving on the battlefield than in a dark alley facing a jealous Neapolitan with a sharp knife. The neighborhood became a European center for transvestite prostitution.

Photo by Marina Pascucci

Photo by Marina Pascucci


“Spanish Naples was a trap its inhabitants could never escape from,” Robb wrote.

In 1651, the Spanish crown had enough and moved the military’s barracks elsewhere. However, the Spanish Quarters’ reputation remains to this day and Camorra lieutenants are among the regular mob.

The Spanish would go on to abuse Naples on a level astounding even in the blood-stained history of colonization. Besides taxing the locals to their fedoras and discouraging Neapolitans for any business initiative, Spain turned the Market Square, south of the train station, into an outdoor torture chamber during the Inquisition. People were beheaded, burned at the stake and quartered for offending God or the king of Spain.

Spain finally relinquished control to general Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 but the chaos remains. Even modernization hasn’t helped. At Da Michele, we waited an hour to get in and an hour for our pizzas. A Maltese couple next to us had to flee to their waiting cruise ship before their pizzas arrived.

Naples is loud and friendly. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Naples is loud and friendly. Photo by Marina Pascucci


But like pizza, you can overdo Naples. It’s good in small doses, a wild, unpredictable night that may not be fit for a diary or blog later. Like the tired old woman who has seen better days, Naples will always hang in there, sitting on the bay, hot and sweaty and friendly.

Just don’t turn your back on her.

La Molisana pasta bash puts Italy’s favorite food in Rome train station

La Molisana opened a shop in Termini train station and will close Nov. 12. Photo by Marina Pascucci

La Molisana opened a shop in Termini train station and will close Nov. 12. Photo by Marina Pascucci


I remember going to grand openings in America. They were all based on bribes. They invite you into a shopping mall and give you a few items of free merchandise, most of it worthless (I think I used the martini glass sleeve as a door jam). You go to a restaurant and get delicious tastings and return the following week to find the same tastings cost the equivalent of a night’s hotel stay. I liked the openings of sports stadiums. But if your team still stinks, you wonder why they bothered.

Here in Italy, openings are different. They’re based more on the subtle than the sale. I go to openings of art galleries, enotecas, photo exhibits. But only in Italy can you experience what I did last week, an event that speaks to the heart of what is important to the Italian soul.

A pasta opening.

True. La Molisana is a 105-year-old pasta company in Molise, the small, nature-loving region on the Adriatic Sea 150 miles east of Rome. Last week La Molisana opened a shop in, of all places, Rome’s Termini train station. In the middle of the main floor with people running around to tracks in the country’s largest train station is a little shop packed with pasta of every conceivable shape.

It’s an ingenious marketing strategy and they hired Marina Pascucci, my girlfriend and uber photographer, to take photos of the opening. I tagged along to … well, eat. Sending me to a pasta opening is like giving a pothead a bus ticket through Colorado. Pasta has dominated my diet since moving here nearly four years ago.

La Molisana began in 1912 and has moved up to fifth in Italy's pasta market. Photo by Marina Pascucci

La Molisana began in 1912 and has moved up to fifth in Italy’s pasta market. Photo by Marina Pascucci


To understand the importance of La Molisana’s presence in Termini, you must understand the importance of pasta in Italy. Last year, this nation of 60 million people consumed 908,100 tons of pasta, by far the highest per capita in the world, according to Mintel, a global marketing research firm. Each Italian consumes 15.2 kilograms a year. That includes a 2 percent drop since 2011 as some Italians are joining the worldwide trend toward carb-free diets.

Their loss.

I eat pasta six days a week. Sometimes I eat it twice a day. I never tire of it. How can you when Italian recipe books are the size of Sicily’s criminal code? If a mathematician tried calculating the number of combinations you can make with the 350 different types of pasta, his mind would snap. Rome has many of those varieties on display in the National Museum of Pasta (currently closed for renovation) on the north side of town.

Casarecce

Casarecce


Each region has its own famous pasta shape. There’s the ear-shaped orecchiette in Puglie, the twisty trofie in Liguria and Emilia-Romagna has the strozzapreti which looks like a short, thin pasta that looks like part of a garroting wire and inspired the name (“strozzapreti” means “strangle priests”). Puglie has casarecce, similar to strozzapreti but shorter with a bigger fold in the middle.

La Molisana has a lovely display, although it’s temporary and closes Nov. 12. It’s a small square space, lined with boxed pasta and the opening had attractive representatives greeting people as they entered. Chefs in white smocks prepared finger food at one end while another poured Prosecco in little plastic champagne glasses.

La Molisana's temporary display is designed to get in closer touch with its customers. Photo by Marina Pascucci

La Molisana’s temporary display is designed to get in closer touch with its customers. Photo by Marina Pascucci


It’s not easy carving a niche in the Italian pasta world. Barilla, which is probably what you have in your cupboard now, is the world’s leading pasta company with 40 percent of the Italian market. It’s followed by De Cecco, Divella and Garofalo. La Molisana is No. 5 — with a bullet. Since 2011 when the Ferro family acquired Molisana, it has jumped from 0.3 percent of the national market share to 4.6.

La Molisana isn’t some little company that crawled from the shadows of the Apennine mountains. It reports annual revenues of $125 million, and 34 percent is exported to 80 countries. Its markets in Australia and New Zealand have exploded.

It has been around a while. It goes back four generations in Molise and boasts what the other companies can’t.

Molise.

Few people have visited. It’s one of three of 20 Italian regions I’ve never seen. But I’ve heard stories that make it sound like all of Italy’s geographical wonders are shoehorned into an area smaller than Delaware. Snowcapped Apennine mountains. Enchanting forests. Sandy beaches. Charming fishing villages. It all adds up to the perfect environment for making pasta.

“We live in an unpolluted place,” said Francesca Di Nucci, La Molisana’s marketing assistant. “Molise is a natural paradise with almost no industrial assets, no industries. With a pure water, pure mountain air. Our pasta factory is one of the most high pasta factories in the south of Italy.”

Di Nucci explained that La Molisana gets its durum wheat all the way in Arizona, where it’s one of the best in the world, and uses all the raw, natural materials around Molise. They’ve been milling pasta the same way for four generations so they have the recipe down well.

Owner Giuseppe Ferro and marketing director Rossella Ferro. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Owner Giuseppe Ferro and marketing director Rossella Ferro. Photo by Marina Pascucci


“It means we are millers before being pasta makers,” she said.

The antipasti La Molisana dished out at its opening were quite good, particularly these little tube pasta filled with cream and crispy bits of pig’s cheek. In an attempt to spread Italy’s good taste around the world — and to prove I’m secure in my manhood — below is the recipe:

PACCHERI CON FONDUTA DI PECORINO E GUANCIALE (Wide tube pasta with fonduta pecorino cheese and pig’s cheek)

INGREDIENTS
12-15 La Molisana paccheri pasta
150 grams pecorino romano cheese
30 grams cream
100 grams guanciale (pig’s cheek)

DIRECTIONS
Melt pecorino in a saucepan and stir in cream until it’s about 20 percent of the formula. Melt it all and add some water if it’s too thick. Fry guanciale until crispy. Remove it to a paper towel and let it soak up the grease. Cut away all the fat. While making sauce, boil paccheri 11 minutes until al dente (a little less than done). When ready, drain and lay individual pasta tubes individually on a tray. Fill the pasta holes with cream and top them with bacon bits.

Paccheri con fonduta di pecorino e guanciale. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Paccheri con fonduta di pecorino e guanciale. Photo by Marina Pascucci

In Sicily: In search of the world’s best cannoli

The cannoli at Avenue Cafe Di Pollina Pietro must be held to be believed.

The cannoli at Avenue Cafe Di Pollina Pietro must be held to be believed.


CROCCI, Italy — It was Columbus Day Monday, that day when Americans argue over whether Italy’s finest explorer, Christopher Columbus, discovered America or was it the indigenous people who were already there. Controversy aside, setting sail across the Atlantic in the 15th century took some major palle and set up some pretty fair exploration from Italians. Fueled by their quest for knowledge, if not matching their courage, I set out on my own exploration Saturday night. It was a quest that would inspire mankind and feed a hunger in me. Call it …

… in search of the best cannoli in Sicily.

It’s a worthy journey. Anyone who has tasted that sweet ricotta cheese filling oozing out of a hard crust like cream from a bonbon knows it’s one of the world’s greatest desserts. Every Sicilian around the world who has put up a shingle on a restaurant, from Palermo to Portland, serves cannoli. You’re never the same after one. Then again, neither is your stomach.

Here in Sicily, where my lovely Marina and I came for a long weekend, cannoli is one of the four major food groups. On the island of Favignana, just four miles off Sicily’s west coast, every bar, cafe, trattoria, restaurant and practically bike shop carries cannoli. I had one after every meal. We had one for between-meal snacks. By the time we hopped the hydrofoil back to Trapani on the mainland, I was about ready to liquify one over a match and inject it in my vein.

On the mainland I mainlined. We met our good trapanese friend, Giuseppe, for dinner at Cantina Siciliana. As the name implies, it’s as traditionally Sicilian as mandolin music at a Palermo wedding. It’s in a back alley away from the bustling port and glitzy main drag of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Dolls that look like witches hang from the ceiling in a nod to the neighborhood’s past life as a theater district. The prices are also Sicilian. I had scrumptious busiate, the traditional Sicilian twisty pasta that looks like a thin, yellowish barber pole. Served with tuna roe, tomatoes and almonds from Sicily’s Baroque Triangle town of Noto, it was only 12 euro. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Sicily, my favorite food region in Italy.

From left: Giuseppe, me, Marina and Patrizia at Cantina Siciliana.

From left: Giuseppe, me, Marina and Patrizia at Cantina Siciliana.


Giuseppe is a graphic designer, like Marina, and he brought his colleague, Patrizia, who is also a graphic designer. They had plenty to talk about. But then, as in every conversation in Italy, the subject soon came to food. We were finishing our last glass of Grillo, a terrific white wine from Barone on Sicily’s east coast, and Giuseppe and I started talking about one of Sicily’s favorite subjects.

Cannoli.

“You want to try the best cannoli in Sicily?” he asked me. He may as well have asked a junkie, “Do you want the best high of your life?”

It was 11 p.m. And we were goin’ on a road trip. We walked out onto the quiet, dark alley and squeezed into Patrizia’s Fiat 500.

“It’s in the countryside not far from here,” Giuseppe said. “But no one from downtown goes there. Not people like me. Only people from the town.”

The village of Crocci lies about six miles east of Trapani on SP52, a highway that goes through farmland and olive groves.

“Is this mafia country?” I asked, playing the role of a dumb American tourist.

“Not far from it,” Giuseppe said. In fact, Crocci is only 60 miles from the famed town of Corleone.

Oktoberfest in Crocci

Oktoberfest in Crocci


Crocci has a population of 461. It seems all 461 people are in Avenue Cafe di Pollina Pietro, a drab name for what could be the best cannoli in Italy and, thus, the world. They weren’t there for the cannoli. However, looking at the size of the locals, they’ve already had their fill. They had packed the bar for Crocci’s Oktoberfest. Italians, particularly in the south, aren’t big beer drinkers. That’s why I saw a direct correlation between the huge liter-size beer mugs being served and the noise erupting from the adjacent room.

Giuseppe walked me to the cafe counter where inside a glass case I saw cannoli so large they looked straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. These were at least 10 inches long, twice the size of cannoli I’ve seen anywhere else in Italy. They were 2 euros each.

He ordered two for the four of us. He could’ve ordered two for the entire cafe.

An advisory to all Americans: The term “cannoli” is plural. One is called a “cannolo.” It’s similar to panini. One is a “panino,” which always baffled the clerks at Panera whenever I ordered one in the U.S. “Cannolo” actually comes from the Sicilian word “cannolu” which means “little tube.”

A cannoli at Avenue Cafe Di Pollina Pietro next to a normal-sized cannoli.

A cannoli at Avenue Cafe Di Pollina Pietro next to a normal-sized cannoli.


The cannolo tradition in Sicily has somewhat of a controversial, steamy past. It dates back to the 9th century when the Arabs controlled Sicily and cannoli were served at the harem of Caltanissetta in the Sicilian hinterland. Apparently, cannoli improved fertility which explains why so many Sicilians have Arab blood today. While the story probably has more sex appeal than truth, it is true that the Arabs brought sugar cane to Sicily in the ninth century.

The more tame legend is that nuns in the convent near Caltanissetta made cannoli to celebrate Carnival.

What is definitely true is what makes cannoli maybe Italy’s favorite dessert. It is a round tube of fried pastry dough filled with rich, creamy ricotta cheese spiked with sugar. Sometimes it’ll be laced with chocolate chips or lined with chocolate or pistachio. But those are found on the mainland. Here in Sicily, I once asked for a cannolo with chocolate and the man laughed and shook his head. I felt like an Italian in the U.S. asking for a hotdog with Nutella. In Sicily, you find only tradition.

What separates Sicilian cannoli with those found elsewhere is the tube. It’s crisp. It’s crunchy. You almost need a steak knife to cut it. Some cannoli tubes in the U.S. are as soggy as a rain-soaked sock. And most cannoli in Sicily are “preparati al momento” (prepared at the moment), meaning they’re always fresh.

Giuseppe put one of the cannoli in my hand and it doubled the width of it. This cannolo isn’t a dessert. It’s a weapon. Giuseppe gingerly cut the two cannoli in halves and Marina, always watching her diet, looked at the slab in front of her and nearly fled the room. I dug in. The thick confection of ricotta cheese had the consistency of gelato and was nearly as sweet. It was almost too much. I had to break off pieces of the tube to give my mouth some context. But I didn’t waste a drop. It fed my growing addiction. I nearly inhaled it like a milkshake through a giant, fila-dough straw.

As the patrons filled themselves with beer, none of their stomachs could’ve been as jammed as mine as I waddled into the night. It was midnight and a hotel room back in Sicilian civilization awaited. As I laid on the bed and groaned, something made me wonder.

What dessert did Columbus bring on his ships?

Las Vegas shooting reminds us all in Italy how stricter gun laws equal fewer deaths

Concert goers run for cover Sunday in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 59 people and injured more than 500.

Concert goers run for cover Sunday in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 59 people and injured more than 500.


The bullets from Las Vegas Sunday could be heard 6,000 miles away here in Rome. They sounded a little louder above the bank of the Tiber River where I stared at my computer and saw the crude videos shot by terrified concert goers. Mass shootings in the United States don’t normally make me sit upright anymore. I’m an American. Mass shootings happen in America as often as fireworks. According to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, the updated number of mass shootings, defined by at least four people shot, is 1,516 in 1,735 days. Total dead: 1,714.

But the Las Vegas massacre caught my attention more than others for two reasons: One, the 59 dead, plus more than 500 injured, marked it as the worst in modern U.S. history.

Two, I lived in Las Vegas for 10 years.

I remember nights sitting in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s sports department from 1980-90 listening to the police radio on a nearby desk. Seemingly every evening someone who bought a gun to protect themselves from everyone else who had a gun was shooting an ex-loved one. Gang members killed other gang members for crossing the wrong street. Most of the murders never even made our front page.

Meanwhile, here in Italy I looked up how many gun massacres the country has had since, oh, say, 1966.

Zero.

That’s right. Niente. Nein. Nyet. Not even one.

I’ve written before about Rome’s relatively safe streets. Last year I took a police ride and compared some frightening but revealing statistics. Three years ago, according to City.Data.com, the U.S. had 33,169 people die from guns; Italy had 475. Over the last 10 years, Detroit, a city of 200,000, averaged 345 gun deaths. Baltimore a city of 622,000, averaged 234.

ANSA, Italy’s wire service, reported Rome, population 2.6 million, averaged 30.

Between the two cops I rode with last year and three I tagged along with in 2002 for a book chapter, I have interviewed five Rome cops with a combined 70 years of experience. Not one had ever fired a gun. They had only seen one cop shoot one. Why would they?

Hardly anyone else carries a gun, either.

It doesn’t take the brain of a Nobel Peace Prize winner to figure it out — although it may take a brain bigger than the average NRA member. It’s gun laws. Italy’s gun laws are strict; the United States’ are … well, they barely have them.

Thirteen U.S. states don’t even have background checks. The states that require them often take only minutes on a computer to approve. You can buy a gun for as little as $100, making them the cheapest in the world. The U.S. has 54,000 gun stores with 98 percent of the population living within 10 miles of one. Besides, who in America doesn’t live within 10 miles of a Walmart? Yes, you can buy guns there, too. The number of gun shows range from 2,000-5,200 per year. This is a big reason why there is 1.13 guns per every American.

In Italy, these are the requirements:

* Be 18 or over.

* Obtain a shooting safety certificate from a gun safety course.

* Pass a medical exam showing you are mentally sufficient.

* Prove you have a clean record at the police station.

* Register all guns at local police department within 72 hours of purchase.

While you can buy guns in Italy, the types of guns are even more prohibitive. Any military weapons such as assault rifles and machine guns are strictly outlawed. Any rifle made in Italy after 1976 must be identified with a progressive catalog number assigned by a commission composed of police and government officials. All guns must be stored in a locked cabinet. A quick search for “Negozi di pistola Roma” (Gun stores Rome) revealed only 13 in the city. I have that many pizza joints in my neighborhood.

Still, looking at the low number of homicides and limited shopping options, I was surprised to see the number of registered guns in Italy: 7 million. However, if you think about it, in a country of 60 million people, that’s only one for every nine persons. That’s only the ninth highest in Europe and more than 10 times lower than the U.S. That number includes hunting rifles and people with more than one gun.

“You have more possibility to have a terrorist attack here than a mass shooting,” said Sabrina Magris, president of Rome’s Ecole Universitaire Internationale and an expert on anti-terrorism and violence in Italy.

I met Magris, 29, for coffee on Piazza Mattei, ironically in the Jewish Ghetto where, on Oct. 16, 1943, occupying Nazis hauled off 1,000 Jews to concentration camps. Only 16 survived. So Rome knows a little about gun violence and mass death.

The difference is Italy, except for isolated pockets, has no gun culture. Its constitution does not say every person has the right to bear arms. Thus, they don’t. In the U.S., gun owners wrap themselves in the Second Amendment and say it’s not only their right but their obligation to own a gun.

“I do not have a weapon,” said Magris, who grew up in Pordenone near Venice and has lived in Rome three years. “Nor my mother, my father. You don’t need a weapon to be safe in your house.”

Italians, unlike Americans, have learned from their history. After World War II came the mafia wars and the clashes between the Red Brigades and fascists. Italians have had enough. While their level of distrust in their government is among the highest in Europe — look how few Italians pay their taxes — they somehow trust the government to protect them.

Rome is the No. 2 pickpocket capital of the world (behind Barcelona) and sexual assault is a concern, as it is every corner of the world. But gun violence is the least of an Italian’s worry. It helps that the gun laws in Italy are national laws. In the U.S., many guns used in the 762 gun deaths in Chicago last year were bought in from Indiana which has less gun control.

The lack of gun control is thanks to the National Rifle Association, a bigger threat to the U.S. than Isis. It’s an organization so arrogant that it held a rally in Denver the week after two teenagers gunned down 13 people at suburban Columbine High. The NRA has been in bed with as many Republican politicians as $500-a-night call girls but are more morally corrupt. In Italy, the gun lobby consists of a guy named Guido shooting wild boar in Tuscany.

Mattei also says cultural differences extend to the trigger finger.

“A lot of Italians are scared to use a weapon,” she said. “If you buy a weapon or if you have a weapon, it’s not the same as to be able to use it. People buy them to think they are safe. If you are not able to manage a weapon it isn’t easy to shoot.”

Which is somewhat of an argument the NRA has trotted out for years. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. The problem is with the people, not the guns.

CHE CAZZO! (WHAT THE FUCK!)

If people who murder with guns are deranged and mental illness is the problem in the U.S. and not gun laws, who really thinks Americans are 10 times more crazy than Italians? If mental illness is a bigger problem in the U.S., then why make buying a gun no more difficult than buying George Foreman Grill on your way home from work?

Magris’ point about home safety hits home. The Northern League, Italy’s most far right party, is pushing to give gun owners more rights. Under Italian law, any home owner must prove he’s under serious attack before he can use a weapon but the movement isn’t getting much traction.

In the U.S., the NRA’s need for guns to protect their homes has all the validity of a teenage girl needing a car. I’m 61 years old. I have never in my life heard of one American protecting their home with a gun. Why? Because criminals who invade homes don’t do it when you’re home. They also aren’t armed. They don’t knock on your door and point a gun. They sneak in, rob you and leave.

And if your gun is in a locked cabinet as it should be and not unlocked in your lap, what the hell are you going to do if the thief surprises you? If you keep it in your nightstand drawer, statistics show you have about a 1,000 times more chances of a family member getting shot than any thief. Somehow, some way, the average American gun owner can’t comprehend a simple math equation: the loosest gun laws in the industrialized world equals the most gun deaths in the industrialized world.

It’s all a cop out for a culture that equates gun ownership with patriotism while the rest of the world equates the streets of America with a war zone. The Las Vegas gunman had enough guns to outfit a third world militia and he bought everything legally. I’m sure they were still counting the dead when the NRA started waving the Second Amendment, a rag that was written when Americans used single-gauge rifles and needed them to defend themselves against a government, not each other.

The U.S. Constitution is about the only thing that’s bulletproof in America. But, as so many other countries have done, it needs to be rewritten. As Australian comic Jim Jefferies said, while pointing out Australia hasn’t had a gun massacre since the government outlawed guns following a mass shooting in 1996, “It’s called an amendment!”