Italian restaurant finds new way of looking at disability

Updated 26 February 2014
0

Italian restaurant finds new way of looking at disability

IT was another busy night for the staff with Down syndrome at the Girasoli restaurant in Rome, which serves up traditional pizza and pasta dishes along with a new way of looking at disability in the workplace.
The neon-signed restaurant was set up in a suburb southeast of the Italian capital by the parents of children with disabilities, and it functions just like any other eatery — except 13 of its 18 employees are handicapped.
“I love this room, monitoring it, making myself available, being in contact with people,” said Simone, a 24-year-old who after a paid internship of 600 hours now has a permanent contract with Girasoli (Sunflowers).
“And above all I just love being here!” he said.
When a group of women came in Simone deftly showed them to a table, clutching a few menus in his hand.
“We heard good things about it so we wanted to come,” said one woman, while her friend added: “Basically it’s a normal restaurant — except the waiters are nice!“
As he tucked into an amatriciana pasta dish, 64-year-old teacher Giuseppe said: “When you come here for the first time, you have certain expectations but you quickly realize that there is no need to have them!
The restaurant was set up in 2000 and is aimed at offering work to people with Down syndrome — a genetic disorder usually associated with physical growth delays and intellectual disability but many manage to complete university degrees and hold down jobs.
“My waiters do their job and do it very well,” said chief waiter Ugo Menghini, who is not handicapped, praising the efficiency and speed of his staff.
“If I was to set up my own business, I wouldn’t hesitate, I would hire people with Down syndrome.”
Like many businesses in Italy, the restaurant has been hit by the recession and was forced to shut for several months last year for restructuring and renovation.
It is now being run by Consorzio Sintesi, a social co-operative association which specializes in giving jobs to disabled people and also manages three call-centers for the Italian mobile phone operator Wind.
“The state pushes for assistance but we prefer professional training. Everything here is self-financed with no subsidies from the state,” Enzo Rimicci, the head of the association, told AFP.
“Every employee here manages to find their place based on their skills,” Rimicci said, explaining for example how one staffer, Marco, was too shy to work with customers but proved to be “a real machine” in the kitchen.

“Seen close up, no one is normal.” he said, repeating an old Roman proverb that he likes.
The restaurant’s training is rigorous and out of the 13 employees with Down syndrome, nine are still interns.
When Girasoli is closed in the morning, another team comes in to make cookies and cakes for the evening customers.
Anna, a 22-year-old waitress, came in even on her night off to have dinner with her parents.
“For us, for her it’s a great victory,” said her father, Carlo, tearing up as he described his daughter’s transformation since she started work.
“Our daughter has gained autonomy. When she comes home from work, she is happy, proud of what she’s done,” he said, adding that Anna had also made progress “in how she relates to other people, in her language.”
A further sign of the restaurant’s success is that another one is in the works.
A new one is expected to open soon in Palermo in Sicily and Rimicci said there were even plans to turn the idea into a franchise and create many more outlets.


Soviet-era motorcycle sidecars add to Cuba’s retro appeal

Updated 21 March 2019
0

Soviet-era motorcycle sidecars add to Cuba’s retro appeal

  • Ranging from rusting relics to the pampered and the pristine, hundreds of old motorcycle sidecars rattle through the streets of Havana

HAVANA: Cuba’s love affair with 1950s-era American cars is still intact, but the communist-run island also has a lingering attachment to a stalwart of Soviet-era leftovers, the motorcycle sidecar.
Ranging from rusting relics to the pampered and the pristine, hundreds of old motorcycle sidecars rattle through the streets of Havana.
The retro appeal gets a lot of attention from tourists “but here it’s common, normal,” says Enrique Oropesa Valdez.
Valdez should know. The 59-year old makes a living as an instructor teaching people how to handle the sidecar in Havana’s traffic, where riders seem able to squeeze the machines through the narrowest of gaps.
And they’ve built up an intense loyalty among the mend-and-make do Cubans.
“They’re very practical,” according to Alejandro Prohenza Hernandez, a restaurateur who says his pampered red 30-year-old Jawa 350 is like a second child.
Cheaper and more practical than the gas-guzzling, shark-finned US behemoths, the bikes are used for anything from the family runabout to trucking goods and workers’ materials.
“A lot of foreigners really like to take photos of it,” says Hernandez. “I don’t know, I think they see it as something from another time.”
Cuba lags several decades behind the rest of the world due to a crippling US embargo, so the makers’ badges on the ubiquitous sidecars speak of a bygone world.
Names like Jawa from the former Czechoslovakia and MZ from the former East Germany, as well as antiquated Russian Urals, Dniepers and Jupiters.
Havana’s military acquired them from big brother Moscow at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s, for use by state factories and farms. Over the years, they gradually filtered down to the general public.
That’s how Jose Antonio Ceoane Nunez, 46, found his bright red Jupiter 3.
“When the Cuban government bought sidecars from the Russians in 1981, it was for state-owned companies,” he said.
Later, the companies “sold them on to the most deserving employees,” he said. His father, who worked for a state body, passed the bike on to him.
“Even if the sidecar gets old. I’ll never sell it because it’s what I use to move around. It’s my means of transport in Cuba, and there aren’t many other options,” said Nunez.
Valdez himself has a cherished green 1977 Ural.
“I like it a lot, firstly because it’s the means of transport for my family, and secondly because it’s a source of income.”
And it costs less than a car, still out of reach of many Cubans.
Settled on the island with his Cuban wife, 38-year-old Frenchman Philippe Ruiz didn’t realize at first how ubiquitous the motorcycle sidecar was.
“When I began to be interested, I suddenly realized that I was seeing 50 to 100 a day!”
Renovating a house at the time, he saw that many sidecars were being used to transport building equipment.
Through an advert on the Internet, he bought a blue 1979 Ural a few months ago for 6,500 euros.
“It’s a year older than me and in worse shape,” he said. “Soon he had to strip the bike down and “start repairing everything.”
With few spare parts available in Cuba, “people have to bring them in from abroad,” which slows down repairs.
But he has no regrets. An experienced motorcyclist, he’s discovered a whole new side to his passion by riding the Russian machine.
“It’s very funny, it’s a big change from the bike because we cannot turn the same way, we can’t lean, so you have to relearn everything but it’s nice.”
“It’s especially nice with the family because you can put a child in the sidecar, my wife behind, and suitcases,” he said.
In future he hopes to take advantage of the interest in the old bikes to rent it out.
“I think it will be a bit of a change from all the convertibles here.”