The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - September 9

Genoa has rejected a US newspaper claim that it is the picture of a bleak European future where the elderly weigh hard and there are few children to support or replace them. Genoa Mayor Giuseppe Pericu hit back at this week's article in the International Herald Tribune which said the birth rate in the region of Liguria was half its death rate - a "frightening ratio even by European standards" - the city centre's biggest mall had no toy store, and there were "no longer children playing in the street".

Proudly mentioning his five grandchildren, Pericu said: "Genoa without doubt went through a period of decline, linked to the difficult transformation from an industrial city to a city of services, culture and knowledge. But that phase appears over". He cited a flurry of events and changes heralded by Genoa's stint as European Culture Capital in 2004 as the point when the Trib's alleged "downward spiral" was checked. The mayor pointed to Genoa's new Science Festival, its 'City for Children' play and learning park, and the so-called night-time 'movida' of a large student population.

But none of the officials tried to refute a telling stat in long-time New York Times European correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal's article, provided by regional Vice Governor Massimiliano Costa: a ratio of 100 under-15s to 70 over-65s 20 years ago, compared to 240/100 today - "the highest in the world," according to Costa.Rosenthal clearly put in a lot of legwork, talking to proudly childless Genoan women, couples unable to afford kids despite a government 'baby bonus' scheme, ambulance workers overstretched by elderly call-outs, and people worried by immigrants filling empty schools and skipping queues for services.

Widening her scope, Rosenthal quoted a Turin economic professor, Daniela Del Boca, as saying domestically overworked women were opting to forego motherhood in Mediterrean countries. "Courtyards from Rome to Naples, once filled with children, have fallen silent," she reported, saying "the texture of Italian society and its values" had changed. Rosenthal ended her article by quoting an Ecuadorean house cleaner who said: "In Italy they don't have children. They have dogs and cats".