Saw this news report this morning: Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that 755 staff must leave U.S. diplomatic missions by September 1 in retaliation for new U.S. sanctions against Moscow. I read that, on that date, staff levels of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia will total 455 people, identical to the number of Russian embassy employees in Washington. Thus, the total US diplomatic staff in Russia (is) was 1210 people. I just have one question – and am guessing I have a lot to learn: Why on earth does one embassy need 1,210 people? I’m sure that includes some chefs and household staff and office cleaning staff and a few drivers – but 1,210 people?
“SUMMERTIME, AND THE LIVIN’ IS EASY” (EVEN FOR POPES)
A song from the musical “Porgy and Bess” has the line “Summertime and the livin is easy,” and that’s pretty much how it is in Italy in July and even more so in August. Many businesses and shops close, sometimes for several weeks, Italians vacate major cities for their summer homes on the beach or in the cooler mountains, traffic is less congested and the noise level goes down noticeably.
It has been torrid in Rome since mid-June at least. Today it’s 95, tomorrow we’ll hit 101 and Wednesday will be 103. In fact, predictions for the next week say every day will be 100+ degrees. We are still waiting to hear if water rationing will go into effect throughout Rome. (photo EFP)
I know many places in the U.S. and around the world are experiencing heat waves and, in some places (Italy included), devastating fires, but it may seem hotter here than elsewhere simply because there is not as much air conditioning here as in the US. Many homes do not have AC as it is so expensive to run. Stores will have conditioning but they negate the effects by leaving their doors open. Generally speaking, in the U.S., you’ll be hot while outside but once you are in a car, bus, train, home, store, restaurant – you name it – you’ll find relief with AC.
Coming back this afternoon from Castel Sant’Angelo where I filmed a segment for “At Home with Jim and Joy,” the water in my bottle got so warm I had to empty the bottle – it was undrinkable.
Let’s not talk about public transport in this weather! A relatively small number of busses have fully functioning AC but often, those that have AC leave the windows open and in five minutes you feel like you are travelling in an oven! Right now the transport crisis is less about working AC than it is working drivers. Some drivers are on vacation but many are simply not reporting for work as they’ve not been paid in three months! Thus, fewer buses, longer waits and when your bus does come, chances are people are packed in like the proverbial sardines!
Tourists abound at this time of year, of course, but Italians have started their mass vacation exodus as, almost every weekend in July, cars filled with families depart Rome for the seashore or the mountains. Most families have second homes – some an hour’s drive away, others in the northern Alpine areas or on the beaches of Calabria and Sicily in southern Italy. Most Italians drive to their vacation home, some take a ship to the islands and many Italians, of course, travel beyond the borders of Italy to exotic places. July is a big month for vacation but August is traditionally the month when cities seem to literally close.
July and August in Rome is when people walk slower, simply because it is so hot or because they are just strolling for the fun of it, in good company and seemingly aimlessly. These are months when the sun shines mercilessly and you walk on the shady side of the street so that your shoes don’t stick to the sidewalk that appears to be melting under your feet. These are months when stores seem to close a bit earlier than usual, when restaurants remain open later than usual, when gelateria are still selling mouth-watering cones at midnight and watermelons are sold on every fifth street corner, satisfying a national passion – and a national pastime – in the summer.
This afternoon, as I was returning home from taping, I saw quite a number of places – restaurants, cafes, pharmacies, a newsstand, a hardware store – that are shuttered for the holidays. Such places usually put a sign on the shutter that tells when they will re-open. Pharmacies are required to post a list of close by alternative pharmacies that are open.
The Vatican is no exception to the July-August vacation time. Most employees want to escape the heat by heading to a milder clime or, when that is not possible, to seek relief in any form – the mountains, the sea or some place that at least can offer a lot of air-conditioning! Many employees are from overseas and thus return home for a month.
News is scarce because there are few people to make it. The main Vatican newsmaker, Pope Francis, has spent the last month on a relatively quiet working vacation, appearing in public only on Sundays for the Angelus. He resumes his weekly general audience this Wednesday, August 2.
Yesterday at the Angelus, before a fair sized crowd in St. Peter’s Square, notwithstanding the midday heat, he called for increased efforts to end human trafficking. His made his appeal after reciting the Marian prayer with pilgrims and tourists gathered in the square on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
Francis began by noting, “Today is the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, promoted by the United Nations. Each year, thousands of men, women and children are innocent victims of sexual and organ trafficking, and it seems that we are so accustomed to seeing it as a normal thing. This is ugly, it is cruel, it is criminal! I would like to ask everyone to commit to countering this aberrant plague, a modern form of slavery, Let us pray together to the Virgin Mary to support the victims of trafficking and to convert the hearts of traffickers.”
I remember when papal vacations lasted several months. John Paul – and Benedict XVI in the early years – would often spend part of July in cooler northern Italy, usually at a summer residence owned by a diocese or seminary, and then go to Castelgandolfo for August and most of September. Often the Sunday Angelus was recited in the canopy-covered courtyard of the summer papal residence.
Yes, summertime – and the livin is easy!