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VENETO

‘La Dolce Vita doesn’t exist’

Tom Weber first found his feet in Vicenza, in the Veneto region, in the 1960s with the US army. He speaks to The Local about the time he was arrested over a residency issue and why, despite this, Italy has become home.

'La Dolce Vita doesn't exist'
Tom Weber lives in the city of Vicenza, in the Veneto region. Photos: Tom Palladio Images

What brought you to Italy?

I first came in 1969 on a military assignment; I was glad to be sent here instead of Vietnam!

I left in 1972 with my future Italian wife and returned the following year, although in 1987 I went back to the US for a civilian job and stayed for nearly 20 years.

In 2006, I threatened to retire and so I was granted permission to be shipped back to Italy, where I worked for the US government from my apartment in Vicenza.

What have you been doing in Vicenza?

I worked mostly for the US army’s radio and TV service. But in 2011 I retired and I’ve since been running a blog, writing and taking photographs. Living in Italy feels like a continuous holiday because I’m not Italian; I’m an outsider looking in.

As a US citizen, have you had any problems with staying in Italy for so long?

The US army base here always sorted everything out, but when I retired it became a whole new game and I was totally on my own.

It was complicated because right before I retired my wife passed away, so I had to rely on my daughters’ Italian citizenship.

At one point I was told to leave the country and went to Rome to sort everything out. I checked into a hotel and unbeknown to me my passport was flagged up; I was arrested in my hotel room at 3.00am. They made a stink over my request and told me I should have come while my wife was still alive. But now I have a residency card.

After such difficulty, what advice do you have for people thinking of moving to Italy?

If you’re in the European Union you have an advantage because you’re already a citizen of Europe. But if you’re from outside the EU, you should apply for a residence visa before you arrive in Italy. If you don’t have Italian family, a student visa or if you are retired, for example, you’ll need to show that you can financially support yourself.

Would you recommend living in Italy?

Well, ‘La Dolce Vita’ really doesn’t exist. It was a lovely period in the 1960s that came to an end and the middle class weakened and the aristocracy got richer.

But as an outsider I do still see ‘La Dolce Vita’ every weekend. The restaurants are full and people are still enjoying themselves. Italians may not take three weeks off in the summer anymore, but they still go away.

In the US we live to work, whereas in Italy you work to live, no matter how difficult it is. That’s why dinner can last four hours and you can strike up a conversation with a total stranger in the market.

What’s Vicenza like?

Vicenza is like the little step-sister of the Venetian republic; it’s a lovely provincial city.

As it’s part of the north east people are in a bit of a hurry, although not quite like they are in Milan.

It’s the city of 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio; people should come to Vicenza to marvel at his incredible buildings such as the Villa La Rotonda.

I’ve seen incredible improvements. When I left in 1987 many palazzi were dark and dreary, then there was a Renaissance of inner-city renewal.

I like going back to the same place many times and seeing it in a different light. Most people walk around their city with their heads down; I look up!  

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ENVIRONMENT

Italy’s booming Prosecco production is ‘unsustainable’, say researchers

Skyrocketing global demand for Prosecco may be putting too much strain on the precious soil in northeastern Italy’s vineyards, Italian researchers reported.

Italy's booming Prosecco production is 'unsustainable', say researchers
The UK and US are Italy's biggest export markets for Prosecco. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

The boom in prosecco production in recent years may be an environmental hazard, as it is contributing to the erosion of some 400 million kiograms of soil every year, according to a new study of Italy's biggest prosecco-producing regions by the University of Padua.

Letting too much earth wash away with rain and irrigation could jeopardize the future of the region’s vineyards, which produce 446 million bottles of prosecco every year, 90 million bottles of which are for export.

The research looked at three of Veneto's biggest Prosecco-producing areas, incluidng the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area.

 READ ALSO: Brexit could make Prosecco pricier for British buyers, Italian winemakers warn

The research found the prosecco industry was responsible for 74 percent of the region’s total soil erosion, and estimated that the “soil footprint”, or amount of soil lost, for the production of each bottle is about 3.3 kilograms.

“The soil is a non-renewable resource.” states the report. “A territory like the Prosecco area gives excellent results from an economic point of view, but this level of production in the long run will hardly be sustainable “.

Prosecco vineyards could reduce their soil loss, the scientists say. One solution — leaving grass between vineyard rows — would cut total erosion in half, simulations show.

Other strategies could include planting hedges around vineyards or vegetation by rivers and streams to prevent soil from washing away.

Prosecco is more popular thn ever before. Photo: Depositphotos

Demand from abroad for the famous Italian fizz is higher than ever before. Last year's figures show record-breaking sparkling wine sales abroad valued at over 1.5 billion.

Much of that was Prosecco, but the figures included sales of other Italian sparkling wines such as Asti or Franciacorta, which are less well-known outside of Italy.

The UK ranks as the biggest market for Italian sparkling wines, followed by the US and Germany.

Repubblica wrote that rthere have been numerous “false reports” about Prosecco in the British press, which it said had “launched an attack” after the commercial success of prosecco “caused beer sales to drop in the pubs of Great Britain.”

It quoted the president of the Veneto Region, Luca Zaia, as saying British are “purely envious” of Italian prosecco.

Zaia, a controversial figure, has previously dismissed negative reports about Prosecco as “fake news” and “the umpteenth Anglo Saxon crusade against Italian products.”

Italian wines in general are undergoing a difficult period in their relations with the UK. Producers and stakeholders alike have expressed fears regarding how Brexit could affect Italy's wine industry

READ ALSO:

  • US vows to put tariffs on products including Italian olive oil, prosecco and pecorino cheese
  • Why Italy wants Unesco heritage status for its Prosecco hills
  • Can Prosecco help Italy finally crack the Chinese wine market?
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