Some (not entirely) random ramblings from my trip around Europe
Last week, I met an American friend who’s been living in Rome for a while.
He still has a lot of assets in dollars and complains about how expensive it is paying for everything in Euros. He’s got a point. I spent 31 Euros ($49) for a so-so plate of tagliatelle in Venice the week before. No mere bagatelle. It would’ve cost about ten bucks during the good old days of the lira.
For all our sakes, one hopes the spread between euro and dollar won’t widen but since that’s out of our hands, I propose the same plan of action which elicited a strange stare from my now Roman friend: just get a lot more dollars. (I’ll have some concrete suggestions next week.)
There are few places an American can go nowadays without saying “ouch,” when compared with a few years ago. Even a country like Croatia has Americans holding onto their wallets.
Recently, near the city of Split, Croatia, I was frivolously intent on carrying out a split run direct mail test. I abandoned this notion when my wife threatened her own version of a split test, so I waited till I was back in Rome.
Though I didn’t send a statistically significant batch of mail and was only testing deliverability, it was fascinating what I discovered. Delivery of a post card or letter from the world’s smallest country, Vatican City, to the U.S. and Canada is between 50% and 100% faster than it is from the Roman post office four minutes down the block. I wish someone could explain how this is so. Since Vatican City is only 0.2 square miles and has no airport anyone knows of, its mail must be flown out of Rome Fiumicino Airport and sorted with the same mail dropped off at Roman P.O.’s
Whatever the reason, there’s a positive correlation between speed of delivery and response rates, so the sight of a sack-laden direct mail marketer waiting in line behind an Archbishop at the Vatican Post Office is not out of the question.
I had a reason for doing this test.
Because of the economic turmoil taking place, I’m looking into the viability of some sort of safe haven report or newsletter targeted toward frazzled U.S. investors a la Joel Nadel’s Royal Society of Lichtenstein (sold to Agora) or the Zurich Report from the 1980’s.
Speaking of Americans, there are far fewer of them wandering the streets of major European cities. During the summer months, one usually hears English spoken as freely as the local language. Now, due to the ascendance of the Russian middle class, one is just as likely to hear Russian. And the Russians are voracious consumers of luxury items. My brother-in-law who’s new Russian in most respects (read conspicuous consumer) gave me a bottle of Louis XIII cognac before returning home. I’ve never seen anything so outrageous. For a thousand Euros, it comes in a baccarat crystal decanter and is contained within a red leather presentation case, replete with a 14 carat gold label. I insisted I don’t drink cognac and preferred a 50 euro bottle of single malt, yet I wound up schlepping the box back to Arizona.
As prosperous as the Russians now are, I wouldn’t count on them displacing Americans for too long. Since all of their newfound prosperity depends on high energy prices, when prices recede — and it’s just a question of when — the Russian middle class may vaporize as fast as it appeared.
On the Italian School of Copywriting
Many Italians don’t waste time with letters to the editor. A can of spray paint and a barren wall let them carry on the time honored sport of political commentary popularized by a 16th Century tailor named Pasquino and dating back to the ancient city of Pompeii.
A worthy descendent of Pasquino is credited with the following lines, carved in a loaf of bread and hung on a statue of Caesar. The backdrop was the fascist rule, when Italians were urged to sacrifice for the greater good of empire while finding their daily bread increasingly inedible by the day.
Tu che ci hai lo stommico di fero,
Mangete sto pane di l’Impero!
(Caesar! You who have a stomach of iron, eat this bread of the Empire!)