Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wake Up Italian Style

Wake Up Italian Style -- in Canada!

If you find yourself back in Canada, like I did after 6 years living and working as a foreign correspondent in Italy, and desperately missing your regular dose of Italian music, Italian news, and even your favourite Italian slang, like I do, you can get your “fix”, …..at least on the radio.

For four hours every weekday on Toronto’s CHIN Radio, (1540AM) why not tune in to their fabulous morning show called “Wake Up Italian Style”. (I admit I flip back and forth with CBC's Metro Morning, and 680 News)

It’s four hours of news, traffic, weather, and all sprinkled with banter, jokes, and interviews by the cheery hosts Edoardo Monasterolo and Patrizia Di Vincenzo. Monasterolo is a recent import to Toronto, having grown up in the Cuneo area of Italy, in Bra (CN) just south of Turin. He was already a popular house DJ in clubs in the Piedmont area, and hosted a radio show there as well, before deciding to move to T.O in 2006.

Edo is the main announcer—he’s also the petulant member of the morning duo. It’s his schtick. He assumes characters in different Italian dialects, and although most of the show is in Italian, often he breaks out his best fractured Italian-English such as “beckayard” for “back yard” and “garbiccio” for “garbage”, and he loves to sprinkle his segues to the latest pop tunes from San Remo with his trademark “Beau-tee-fool!”

If Edo is the Don Cherry of the team, then Patrizia Di Vincenzo is his Ron McLean. She’s the more serious on air personality, and does the traffic updates, and brings in bits of news and gossip to discuss with Edo and the technician who operates the board.

For me, listening to Wake Up Italian Style helps in many ways: I feel as though I’m driving around the Grande Raccordo in Rome stuck in traffic, although instead of slowdowns on the via Appia, it’s the Don Valley Parkway. They even use the same theme music to do traffic that I used to hear in Rome on the radio frequency GR2 when I lived there.

I also like how I get to hear modern popular Italian language and slang, so I don’t forget my Italian, even though here in T.O. I get very little chance to use it. It helped tremendously this past summer as we spent six weeks with the kids traveling across Italy in June and July, and my Italian was fluent. It was like taking a crash Berlitz refresher, but Wake Up Italian Style is free!

When we were in Italy, this summer, my kids were often glued to MTV Italy watching the latest music videos, and we fell in love with the tunes that were on the summer play list of 2008: Giusy Ferreri, Jovanotti, Cesare Cremonini. Listening to Wake Up Italian Style keeps me in the loop about the newest entries in the Italian music charts. And they also play some oldies, which remind me of my “wild oats” during my years living in Italy 1988 to 1994.

The music ranges from Nek, and Ramazotti to Gianni Morandi’s most recent album, to an old Antonello Venditti classic, to Laura Pausini and Michael Buble’s duet singing “You’ll Never Find” – that's the Canadian content!

They also have news on the hour and half hour, both local and from Italy, including reports from RAI international, so I can keep abreast of the latest Berlusconian quip, the David Beckham will-he-or-won’t-he with Milan, and the national debate over Eluana.

Plus you get tips on which Italian entertainers are coming to perform in town. Zucchero came last fall. So did Massimo Ranieri, but if they play his song “Rose rosse” one more time, I think I will drive off the road in frustration.

Am I the typical listener? Probably not, since the target audience is between 40 and 70, according to a recent blog entry, and you can tell, when you listen to the people who call in for contests, that they are mainly older, first generation Italian Canadians who now live in Woodbridge. But for me, Wake Up Italian Style fills a need, sort of like a good piatto di pasta and a glass of wine on a warm summer Roman afternoon. “Bee-youti-fool!”

Here’s how to contact them: wakeup@chinradio.com or call at 416-531-9991 ex2410

CHIN radio is on in Toronto on 1540 A.M., 100.7 F.M., and in Ottawa as well on 97.9 FM.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Afghanada --not the CBC Radio's drama!

We have heard a lot from distinguished and courageous Canadian foreign correspondents about what the situation is like on the ground in Afghanistan: the suicide bombers, how Canadian soldiers are being targetted by IEDs, about dangerous patrols in forward bases, and the inevitable convoy down Toronto's Highway 401 when another Canadian is killed on the line of duty there. And all of this reporting has made a big impression on me, and on many Canadian readers.

But I have my own sources: a first hand first person view of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. From a former student of mine, an Afghan-Canadian journalist, who's been working in Kabul for several years for the largest independent newspaper in that country.

Ahmad Zia isn't your typical journalist: born in Afghanistan, he started as a trained lawyer, and speaks five languages.
But he fled Afghanistan about ten years ago when the Taliban came to power, and wound up moving with his family to Toronto, where he drove a cab at night so he could take a broadcasting degree at Seneca College during the day.

The plan was so he could return to Afghanistan and help his native country tell their stories better.

I was one of his teachers.

After graduation, he decided to return alone to Kabul, leaving his wife and two children safely in Toronto, and try to work in the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts of nation building. He's since worked as a communications advisor to various Karzai government ministries, and for several western NGOs, all the while helping his brother Faheem Dashti run Kabul Weekly.

He's also assisted foreign correspondents from Canadian outlets, including CTV News's Steve Chao, and Tom Blackwell from the National Post, and others who do their stints in Afghanistan.

He spends most of the year working abroad, and returns to Toronto twice or three times a year to recharge, see his family, and vent.

That's when I get my first person account of life in Kabul.

He describes the city matter of factly: crowded streets, no traffic lights, and a suicide bomber today who blew up 20 people at the Ministry of Justice, right beside where he works.

When Zia first went back to Kabul he was full of optimism: lots of foreign NGOs and international donors were pouring money and effort into Afghanistan after 2001, the Taliban was out of power, and the future seemed brighter.

Afghan president Karzai may not have liked what the staff at his brother's newspaper, Kabul Weekly wrote about -- exposing government corruption and NGO scandals -- but Karzai has allowed the paper to continue to operate, although under dire financial problems.

It had to shut down for a while in 2007. UNESCO and others helped it get back in print.

When the U.S. recently offered money to help keep the paper alive, Zia says there would have been strings attached: censorship. So they refused. Instead, Zia and his brother and others do what they need to do: sometimes paying the journalists and other staff first, while they themselves go without a salary.

Kabul Weekly has the largest circulation in the country for an independent newspaper. Last year Zia helped develop the paper's new online news website. It's in English, and Dari as well.

Zia had always intended to move his family back to Afghanistan as soon as he could: but by last summer, after the failed assassination attempt against President Karzai, he still felt it was too dangerous to risk it. He still does. In fact, he told me if Karzai wins the next election, he will probably admit defeat, and leave.


Because he says the current government hasn't improved the lives of his countrymen, not even after nearly 8 years, and $18 billion spent by Canada alone on its military mission in Afghanistan, and billions from other sources on schools and development projects and army building. And the countless lives lost. People have no jobs, he says. That's why he says most of the "insurgents" are mainly the unemployed and others , including crooks, who have no other way to make a living. The average salary for an Afghani is $50 while Karzai's advisors get $10,000. Outside Kabul, he claims the government runs a big poppy growing operation.

But what is hardest to live with, he said this week on his latest visit, was what he perceives as the lack of a clear and sensible vision for how to nation build. He sees it as a failure of the Afghan government, and of the international community.

His hope?

A new leader get elected in the coming ballot in August.

He senses the Karzai regime already knows its days are numbered, although he thinks the current president will do anything to stay in power. Just recently, he says he tried to run a story in the paper about current officials making plans to feather their nests as much as possible before being voted out of office. After hearing a report that someone has already looted one of Karzai's two armoured cars from the palace, Zia asked for an interview. He says officials denied the story, but also refused them access to the palace to take photos to prove the vehicle wasn't indeed missing.

One final note:

Zia is currently the head of an international foundation trying to build a public library in Kabul. It's to honour a man known as the Afghan Lion, a popular anti-taliban commander and Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated two days before September 11th 2001, by Al Queda terrorists posing as reporters.

He says the government has graciously granted them some land for the project: supporters from Germany and Japan are also on board. But they need to fundraise in earnest to get the library built. Anyone interested in this project here in Canada? You can contact me and I'll put you in touch with Ahmad.