In another lifetime (some 30 years ago), I lived in Rome. I was writing my first book then and doing some work for a famous movie producer.

When it came to the summer months, particularly around Ferroagosto, August 15 (the start of vacations for most Romans), the city emptied itself of all the natives. In fact, in my apartment building on Viale de Villa Pamphili, above Trastevere (an all-Italian neighborhood as no one there spoke much English), I was the only one left in the building and wouldn't dare use the tiny two-person elevator for fear it might get stuck. Of course, trooping six flights down to the street wouldn't solve anything as there was no one around and all the stores were closed. And, there was no one to call either on the phone.

Leap forward to the summer of 2003, and things are quite different. Many Italians have "faked" their vacations and the proliferation of cell phones is quite apparent. Everyone has something glued to their ear.

Actually, the cell phone, once deemed the ultimate in status symbol, is so prevalent that school children, clergy, the local newspaper guy has one. In fact, I have even seen it in the hands of beggars by Piazza Navonna.

The cell phone has embedded the national psyche so much that ISTAT--the agency that deals with matters economic--released figures about the use of cell phones. It reported that between 1997 and 2002 the number of Italian families with cell phones went up by 48.1 percent while the number of those with fixed lines dropped by 7.4 percent.

Actually, some 75 percent of Italian households have cell phones, compared to 27 percent in 1997. And we don’t talk about 1973. Niente. Families with fixed lines dropped to 83 percent from 90 percent in 1993. If the trend shown by ISTAT continues, then it is clear there will soon be more cell phones that fixed phone lines.

Why? Italians believe quite strongly that they can't live without the mobile phone.

For a country that was in the backwater in 1945 when the war ended, such cell phone revelations have been covered on the front pages of the top newspapers in the country.

Of course, going back to my original theme about Italians faking vacations, Rome's Il Messaggero ran a different kind of survey in which it said that as many as three million Italians fake their vacations. They tell their friends and relatives that they are going away on August 15, they then stock up on food, lies and videotapes, and stay home.

Why? According to the survey, these people are embarrassed that they cannot afford to go on a vacation. The lira is simply not stretching that far today, or they didn't plan properly.

And what are they also doing at home? Calling each other to complain…on their cell phones, of course.

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