Category Archives: Italy

What connects Richard Gere, George Clooney and John Travolta?

There’s a lot of news here in Milan – if only I can remember it

I have a notoriously bad memory.

Last night, I watched some slides taken by a friend whom I met on a trip to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 1989. We also went to Nepal and Tibet together in 1990. I could not remember most of the incidents on the slides.

Apparently, in 1990, we drove by coach from Kathmandu to the Friendship Bridge which marks the border between Nepal and Tibet. For surreal Chinese bureaucratic reasons, we then had to walk unaccompanied over the border for around six or seven miles to link up with our Chinese guides and their coach. I remember none of this. I thought we must have switched coaches at the border.

I could not remember about 75% of the people we travelled with on those trips either – including some bloke I shared a room with for about two weeks

Then there was the photo of the mind-reading parrot in Kathmandu.

I remember nothing of this creature but there it was, captured on film.

Nope. No memory at all.

My eternally-un-named friend has suggested that maybe my memory was affected by the accident I had in 1991 when I hit the back of my head. I have blogged before about how, since then, I am unable to read printed books although, oddly, I can write them on a computer screen.

Maybe that is why.

But my memory has always been bad. I tend to remember trivia but, then, I’m interested in trivia.

The title of the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera translates as The Evening Courier but it is the morning newspaper here. That’s Italy for you.

Yesterday, Corriere Della Sera carried a photo of Richard Gere kissing a woman. Today it has a photo of George Clooney kissing a woman and the caption says they have a special look in their eyes.

There is also a news report about a tunnel which has taken twenty years and 120 million Euros to build but now the authorities are unable to finish it because they can’t afford the tarmac.

And there is a report about the entertaining politician Silvio Berlusconi’s girlfriend who was unable to get to the toilet yesterday because she was surrounded by photographers. It is quite a lengthy report.

Meanwhile, in an interview today in the weekly Italian gossip magazine Oggi (Oggi, of course, means “today” not “weekly”), John Travolta admits the reason he is in “great shape” is due to yoghurt and Scientology.

Now that I might remember.

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Where in the world can you find total safety from insects? Well, not in Italy.

I have been reduced to wearing this just for daily breakfast

“You’re lucky,” said my friend with who lives in Milan. “We had hundreds of flying ants just before you arrived. They come every year.”

“Do they bite?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“Then I would prefer them to the mosquitos,” I said. “How many bites did you have on your legs yesterday?”

The devastation wreaked by winged creatures

“Exactly sixteen on each leg,” my friend told me stoically. “I counted them.”

“Very fair of the mosquitos,” I said.

“Thirty-two is thirty two too many,” she told me. She did not have to tell me. We were eating breakfast outdoors again.

I have never understood why people eat outdoors. Especially in the UK. Buying barbecues so they can eat outdoors in the UK: what is that all about? The food gets cold, the flies deposit picked-up dog shit on your food and birds circle menacingly. It is ridiculous.

Even in Milan in 84F temperatures it is not a good idea. The flies come to the food equally dirtied as if they were in England and, the last two days, the few mosquitos who did not bite me on the first day got up early to have a go at me over breakfast… and stayed up late.

My arms are a mess. Why did god create Italian mosquitos? It is bad enough he created Luchino Visconti films.

What hellish creature could make this mark?

There is now a vivid circle on the edge of my right hand – dark red, as if the blood beneath the skin has been polluted by some Satanic creature.

“That’s not a mosquito bite,” my friend said, trying to reassure me.

It did not reassure me. What other blood-obsessed creatures are attacking me?

“I want to get an owl,” my friend said.

“Do they eat mosquitos?” I asked.

She ignored me. “The authorities look into it and bring an appropriate nest,” she explained.

I think she said that. My mind was elsewhere. I was thinking about the mosquitos.

“They will carry off small children and domestic pets,” I said.

My friend looked at me.

“Owls,” I stated glumly.

Later in the day, my friend bought me a hat with protective gauze. I think it was a joke. It may not have been.

In the evening, she told me: “The flying ants have come back. I think they come through the walls.”

It was not a reassuring thing to tell me.

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Filed under Insects, Italy

The curious case of Belgian schoolgirls & dogs which did not bark in the night

My early morning reading: better than Jehovah’s Witnesses

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in my friend’s house just outside Milan. There was a ring on the bell at the gate.

“It’ll be the missionaries.”

“Missionaries?” I asked.

“Christians.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

“Same thing. Missionaries.”

In fact, it was a man handing out the latest issue of the local revolutionary Communist party newspaper Lotta Communista (The Communist Fight).

So yes, missionaries.

“Are the Communists strong around here?” I asked.

“They used to be,” I was told. “There is a new Morman Temple opening round the corner, maybe this year.”

Religions seem to be finding Italy a fertile ground. Always have, I suppose.

In the afternoon, I went to the hilltop town of Bergamo with my friends. There were a group of perhaps twelve young schoolgirls going round one of the squares, asking people to wear a pink jacket and then taking photographs of them.

“Why the pink jacket?” I asked the schoolgirls.

“We are all from different schools,” I was told, “but we all come from Belgium. You go to a camp and you meet people and you do stuff for them. we are at Camp Lovere. It is a water camp. We do water sports there.”

“And the pink jacket?” I asked.

“It’s a game that we play in the city,” I was told. “We are in different groups, all battling against each other. There are other groups who have to make sure people wear pants… like swimming shorts. We have to get pictures of things and we also have to collect some Italian food and create a human pyramid. And we have to teach a tap dance to somebody and to wrap someone – an Italian – in toilet paper and take a picture.”

“And if you win?” I asked.

“We win two bowls of ice cream,” I was told. “But we have to go now.”

Belgian schoolgirls build the human pyramid

They rushed across the square. Two men were persuaded to kneel on all fours on the ground and six girls formed a human pyramid with them.

As we were driving out of town, my friend saw two greyhounds.

“They are lovely,” my friend said. “There is an Italian association which rescues greyhounds from Irish racetracks. Did you know the greyhounds get killed after they stop winning races?”

Later, as we ate our evening meal in the garden beside our house, a man started shouting and a woman started screaming in fear in the large house across the road.

I looked at my friend.

“He is shouting at her I will kill you! and she is screaming. It does not sound good.”

But the four dogs owned by the man in the house across the road were not barking so, presumably, it was not an unusual occurrence.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Italy

John Terry, racism & the Afro-American

News from home while insects bite

I am in Milan for a week.

Yesterday, I was laughed-at for wearing long trousers in the 84F degree heat. Last night, we ate watermelon at an outside restaurant and the mosquitos ate my accusers’ legs.

There is a God and he lives in northern Italy.

Meanwhile other life goes on.

The UK newspapers this morning are full of footballer John Terry being found innocent of racism for calling Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt”. I really do not know what I think about this case. My mind is split.

In my heart, I feel he should have been found guilty but, on the other hand, I know that if he had called a Cardiff-born footballer a “fucking Welsh cunt” he would not have been prosecuted. This implies that it is no longer illegal to use the words “fucking cunt” (something I was found guilty of in a Crown Court in Norwich in the mid-1990s, when the appeal judge said the use of the word “cunt” was “clearly obscene” in the phrase “Your client is a fucking cunt”), but it is now possibly a criminal offence to use the word “black”.

This unsettles me.

Especially as an English friend here in Italy has told me that he heard his 14-year-old son (who speaks English at his international school) call a British rapper an “Afro-American”. When my friend mentioned that he thought the rapper was actually born in Brixton, his son told him he could not call the rapper “black” because that was a racist word. So he called all black people, wherever they came from, “Afro-American” because they all “originally came from Africa”.

Where the American bit comes in I am flummoxed to explain.

In other news from home, I am now getting my annual e-mails from American comedian Lewis Schaffer being indecisive about the design of the flyers for his Edinburgh Fringe show.

I see all his designs carry the line

SPONSORED BY PETER GODDARD. HE’S A NICE GUY

with a photo of the aforementioned Peter.

I blogged about it when this interesting piece of sponsorship was first suggested to Lewis and I am not quite sure if it warrants another Cunning Stunt nomination for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Or not.

As I type this, I am eating toast and drinking tea near Milan.

In Syria, people are being killed.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Football, Italy, Racism

Sexism on a small Italian island in 1998

Fourteen years ago, on 30th June 1998,  I was on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with an Italian man whose autobiography I eventually failed to write. Pantelleria is known by some Italians as “the black pearl of the Mediterranean” because it is simply an island of solid black lava. They think it is romantic; I thought it was just plain barren.

The nickname I have given the man I was attempting to write the book with is Ozymandias; all the other people’s names have been changed too. Ozymandias was accompanied by his teenage son and daughter. There, too, was an American woman called Christina. This is what I wrote in my diary at the time:

__________

Apparently Pantelleria was the island of Venus and Christina is sure there must have been lots of priestesses here. Christina is very thin, a bit gawky and has an unfortunate look in her eyes that gives me the general impression she would be at home in some Calfornian religious cult, perhaps believing that Atlantis was destroyed by its nuclear-powered crystals.

Over dinner, she was a bit disappointed to learn from Ozymandias that Pantelleria was never connected to Africa or Sicily: it is just a straight-up volcanic pillar.

Ozymandias explained to her that he could not afford to take his children off on a beach holiday anywhere because it would cost $4,000, so he had thought up the idea of working on Pantelleria to get free hotel accommodation every summer and take his children along. Christina told me she thought it was nice he kept his children involved.

A few minutes later, there was an emotional argument over the meal (a complete mystery to me, as it was all in Italian), with Ozymandias’ daughter bursting into tears after words with her father. Ozymandias told me that it was all about how he wasn’t allowed to criticise his daughter for her dress or when she could stay out, yet she felt he had to ask permission from her to go anywhere. Later, Christina – who speaks Italian and whom Ozymandias calls Chrissie, possibly to annoy her – told me the daughter had been saying she felt sad and unwanted because Ozymandias was out all day and she was left alone. (The brother and sister, not abnormally for teenagers, don’t pal-up together.)

Continuing the meal, Ozymandias explained to Christina (in English, which his children slightly but do not fully understand) that he hates all women and the more his daughter grows into a woman the more he grows to hate her. The trouble, he explained, is that he only meets the sort of women who are no use to him. He only meets women who are interested in him intellectually and who are quite intelligent. These are exactly the women who do not know how to cook, look after homes and look after children, which is what he needs. He said the only relationship that works is one in which each person ‘pays’ something to the other because you have to get something out of it.

At the end of the meal, Christina and I were left alone. She told me she felt sorry for the daughter but reckoned the son must be more screwed-up because his father was his role model. She said she could not understand why Ozymandias had ever had children.

I said it was because, in his eyes, that is what men do.

Christina wondered what on earth Ozymandias’s mother must have been like to him for him to hate women so much. She also spotted that Ozymandias had “a lot of knowledge but no heart” and, rather worryingly, added, “although he is obviously very sensitive”. This is true, but possibly a dangerous avenue of thought for any woman to go down where Ozymandias is concerned.

Rather oddly, she wondered if I had anywhere I ‘went’, if I was writing his autobiography and lived through all of this.

“Surely,” she said, “you have to go outside occasionally and just scream?”

I said I’d had to deal with a lot of supposedly difficult entertainers and performers so it was, pretty much, water off a duck’s back. Also, I have never been the object of any of his diatribes. Ozymandias was unusually ratty tonight but usually his anger and violence is turned inwards.

I also mentioned that an Italian friend, when I told her about Ozymandias, said all Italian men were like this. Christina said, “Oh no, nothing like what I’ve just seen”. (And what she’d seen was Ozymandias being relatively low-key and restrained.)

Christina said it was ironic that Ozymandias was on the Island of Love.

I think this idea she has of volcanic Pantelleria being the island of Venus is mildly off-the-wall, but at least she’s an American who understands irony, so I should be thankful for small mercies.

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Pagliacci at the Edinburgh Fringe – but will laughter get women into bed?

Giacinto Palmieri in Pagliacci costume

As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I had a drink with Italian-born British-based comedian Giacinto Palmieri – after seeing the first try-out of his show Pagliaccio which he will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Giacinto is one of life’s natural quotables:

“It’s a love story,” he says, “but it’s a double love story because it’s also a love story for the Edinburgh Fringe itself.

“The Fringe is an intense experience. It is like those war veterans who spend the rest of their life talking about what they did in the War. People think Why? The War is a horrible thing – but it’s the intensity they are missing. Once you have done the Edinburgh Fringe, the rest of your life just looks bland.”

This will be Giacinto’s fourth year at the Fringe.

“This is my first attempt to do a thematic narrative show,” he told me in a Soho pub. “I was doing joke-joke-joke comedy but, as a member of the audience, I started to discover and love thematic shows. There was a mis-match between what I was doing and what I really like. So I set myself the goal of writing a thematic show.

“Edinburgh is such a strong experience, it really stimulates your writing. I started to write this year’s Edinburgh show the day after the Fringe finished last year; some material I even wrote during Edinburgh itself. I wanted to start writing fresh from the Edinburgh experience without waiting for January or February like most comedians.”

“Most comedians seem to start writing around 25th July!” I said.

“Yes,” he laughed. “Or on the train up to Edinburgh! It’s true.”

“But I really wanted to express the intensity of being there and the fact that people are up in Edinburgh to express their emotions, so anything can happen there. Once you open the bottle, you don’t know what comes out. Once you go there to express yourself every day for three-and-a-half weeks, you don’t know what you will discover about yourself.

“My show is about comedians living together and sharing a show and working together and it is a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between the comedians and I play with the similarity between that situation and the plot of the opera Pagliacci which is about a travelling group of clowns.

“So it is a love story about another performer I became romantically interested in at last year’s Fringe, but also about the craziness and intensity of the Fringe itself.”

“The Pagliacci cliché,” I said to Giacinto, “is that all clowns are sad.”

“There is clearly some truth in that cliché,” he replied. “One of the best responses I have ever seen on the comedy circuit was when a comedian asked a member of the audience What do you do for a living? and the reply was I’m a therapist and the comedian simply asked So why am I doing this?

“You do need to wonder why we are all doing this.”

Giacinto has been in the UK for eleven years (and is now a British citizen) but he has only been performing comedy for the last four years. Before that, he was a full-time I.T. consultant. That seems a bit weird to me – coming to a foreign country, pursuing your career for seven years, then becoming a stand-up comic.

“It is even weirder than that,” he tells me. “The first time I went to Edinburgh was as a member of the audience. I absolutely loved it and saw 30 or 40 theatre shows but only one comedy show which I did not even like. So I did not know comedy at all. I discovered it later. I was in a pub in London and saw there was a comedy show upstairs and I went and I was mesmerised because I discovered how much creativity and energy there was in it. It looked very fresh. I was fascinated by that level of comedy, not by the professional level on TV.

“When I started, my models were the comedians who were one or two levels above me on the London circuit, not the Big Names.. I discovered the Big Names quite late.

“I had always liked writing. I started writing a fake, mock anthropological study of the British tradition of the corporate Christmas party and – completely by mistake – I emailed it to the MD of my company and he liked it so much he read it in front of everybody during the Christmas party. And it worked very well. People liked it. People laughed. But he did not mention my name. He thought he was protecting me. But I would have liked the recognition.

“So, at the same time, I discovered the comedy club scene on the one hand and my comedy writing instinct on the other hand. I put the two things together. I thought why not take my material and convert it into a stand-up comedy form and perform it myself?”

“But,” I asked Giacinto, “people from I.T. have a different mindset to comedians, don’t they?”

“Well,” he explained, “people in I.T. are interested in recursion and self-referential paradoxes like Bertrand Russell’s – the paradox of the infinite sets.”

“Ah, of course,” I said, nodding sagely and hoping Wikipedia had an entry I could look up later.

“Philosophy,”  Giacinto continued, “is what I studied at University, so there is a connection between my interest in logic and philosophy which can be brought into the I.T. arena because computer programming is applied logic and many jokes are based on paradoxes and self-reference. So, if you like logic, you will probably like word gaming, paradoxes and so on.

“That is why, until now, as a comedian I have always been very academic, very much inside my head, very much philosophical – it has been about language and so on. Which, of course, is very much part of my personality and my way of looking at things.

“The fact that English is not my native language is a difficulty – an obstacle of sorts – but it is also a great opportunity, because you can play with it. I can see in the English language things which a native speaker cannot see. Every foreigner is able to see cultural things which a native cannot see.

“Most foreign comedians in Britain are foreigners but still native English-speakers. They are Australians, Americans, New Zealanders and so on. I have the advantage, as a non-native English speaker, of being not only able to see British culture but the English language itself from a fresh point of view.

“I played with that as part of my act for a long time. This new show Pagliaccio does not play with language so much. It is a love story, so is more universal.

“My comedy was very abstract, so I decided to try to be more personal, to go more into the emotional side of things. And people told me one of the reasons I always had problems with women was because I am too much inside my own head.

“It is true comedy is a journey of self-discovery, in a sense. I am trying to discover the emotional side of me. It is frightening. Once you open the bottle, you don’t know what kind of genie will come out. It might be a good genie or a bad one.”

“One great cliché,” I suggested, “is that the way to get a woman into bed is to make her laugh.”

“Well, it hasn’t worked for me!” laughed Giacinto.

“The comedian Andrew Watts – a very very clever guy – wrote an article. His theory is that women use laughter as a way to communicate a sexual interest in somebody. In a comedy club situation, maybe onstage I can get a bigger laugh than a very good-looking comedian but, if you go for drinks with the girls afterwards, I am pretty sure the good-looking comedian will get bigger laughs in the bar. Pretty sure. Because women are sending signals.

“Getting a woman into bed by making her laugh… That was my hope, but I lost that hope: I don’t think it’s going to work for me.”

“The press will love your show in Edinburgh,” I told Giacinto: “A love story with laughs actually set during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Perhaps,” he mused.

“Maybe you should call it Pagliacci – An Edinburgh Fringe Love Story,” I suggested.

“Perhaps,” he mused. “Perhaps. Perhaps women will like it.”

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Italy, Philosophy, Sex, Uncategorized

The rules of being an Italian stereotype

Yesterday afternoon, I flew back to London from Milan. The English girl in the next seat on the Ryanair flight was at university in Italy. We were talking about the bureaucracy there. Italy is a good place to visit. Not a good place to live because of the bureaucracy.

“I’ve never known inefficiency like it,” the girl said. “I thought England was bad… but Italy…!

“It’s the lying,” she continued. “Constant lying. If they actually said something would take two months, I might be irritated. But they say it will take ten days, knowing it will take two months, then I’m just very, very angry. It’s like they enjoy it.”

That morning, on a motorway near Bergamo, I had been talking to my friend who lives near Milan about the cliché of Italians.

“They’re very conventional,” she said. “The way they dress, the colours of the cars they drive. The neatness of the way they dress. The women’s make-up. It’s like they obey the rules they think are expected of them.”

“What about the cliché of bad Italian drivers?” I asked. “I’ve never driven in Italy, but they never seem to me to be as bad as the stereotype. There’s a problem in Rome, but it’s because they have enormous wide-open street junctions and no traffic lights. The system’s haywire, not the driving.”

“I tell people who come here,” my friend said, “that the most dangerous thing on Italian roads is to drive slow. You have to drive fast because everyone else does. If you drive slow, they will go straight into the  back of you. You have to drive with confidence even if you don’t have any.”

“They drive far too close to the car in front,” I agreed. “No braking space if anything happens.”

“They ignore all the rules on the road,” my friend said. “It’s like they think they’re expected to disobey the rules of the road, so they all disobey the rules because that’s the rule. They weave in and out and use the hard shoulder. They tailgate like they have a death wish. I’ve been overtaken a hearse at traffic lights. He ran the red light at great speed, with the cross on the bonnet wobbling.”

“It’s the legacy of the Ben-Hur chariot race,” I suggested.

“Mmmm,” my friend said as we were overtaken on both sides by speeding trucks.

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Filed under Italy, Urban myths

Suspicious Italian lawyers and a warning to Australian comedy lovers

Yesterday, I took a trip to Lake Como in Italy or, rather, to the town of Como, which has easy access to Switzerland across the lake and seems to have a suspiciously high number of “studio legale” – solicitors’ offices.

Apart from that, my day seemed to be mostly taken up with traffic jams.

I did, though, get an e-mail from comedian Bob Slayer back in the UK, who tells me he is preparing to go to Perth Fringe World in Australia and is looking forward to a month in the sun.

“After Perth,” he tells me, “I will be doing a comedy tour of mining and rural towns around the outback all the way to the Adelaide Fringe. I will be travelling in a Ute that runs on cooking oil… with a goat called Gary and a comic called Jimbo who drinks his own wee.”

Confusingly, there are two comics called Jimbo.

This is the one whose website bills him as “Australia’s crudest comedian”.

Only a soul as hardy as this could even contemplate the terrifying thought of traversing the outback with a Bob Slayer who will have easy access to beer and be in the home country of Priscilla Queen of The Desert.

Bob has promised, dear reader, to be one of this blog’s ‘foreign correspondents’. I fear reports on his escapades Down Under may well make Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seem like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

You have been warned.

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Mafia capitalism takes the same route as the Titanic on its maiden voyage…

Capitalism with a dash of  socialism to add a restraining touch of morality  is, arguably, the least-worst economic option for running a country’s economy. Certainly better than Communism under inevitably self-perpetuating elites.

But shareholder-based capitalism is flawed and possibly doomed, because its aim is the short-term maximisation of profits for the shareholder rather than the long-term growth and health of businesses in which the shareholders invest. The aim is short-term profit-taking, not efficiency. In that sense, it has the same flaws as countries run by dictators or businesses run by criminal organisations… or, indeed, countries run by criminal organisations.

Which brings me to Italy.

I have just arrived in Milan for a couple of days.

I have blogged about the Mafia before…

According to a report issued two days ago, the Mafia is now “Italy’s biggest business”. But this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

Post-War Italy was, in effect, run by the secret Masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due) for around thirty years: an unholy alliance of politicians, big business, the military, the intelligence services and the Mafia. It was a conspiracy theorist’s most paranoid dream come true.

The real ‘new’ news story about the Mafia’s financial power seems to be that the current world financial crisis has particularly hit Italy and has partially unified the traditional Mafia groups.

In the current economic crisis, traditional banks are reluctant to lend, so many Italian businesses nationwide have been forced to borrow at crippling rates of interest from organised crime, including the three big Mafia groups – the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

As a result, the Mafia now have an alleged annual turnover of around £116 billion with reserves of 65 billion Euros, making them “Italy’s biggest bank”.

This is according to a report issued a couple of days ago by Confesercenti, a prominent employers’ association which represents 270,000 small-to-medium businesses. They simply called their report Criminality’s Grip on Business  and it says the Mafia account for around 7% of Italy’s Gross Domestic Profit – and we are talking very ‘gross’ here.

Marco Venturi, the president of Confesercenti, was quoted as saying: “According to our estimates, loan sharking caused the closure in 2010 of 1,800 businesses and destroyed thousands of jobs. Right now, Mafia Inc is the only business enterprise willing to make substantial investments.”

That sounds to me like a man with an eye for publicity.

But, basically, if you are running a small business facing ruin and potential closure in the current economic crisis where banks are only interested in short-term strategies, you have few options to try to save yourself except to borrow from the Mafia… which ironically may itself result in ruin and the potential closure of your business.

Small business owners with tight margins and limited cash flow also, as always, face extortion and straight robbery by the Mafia, at a reported rate of one crime every minute.

This week’s Confesercenti report says the influence of various mafias is now being felt not only in traditional strongholds such as Naples and Palermo, but increasingly in the wealthy north of Italy, in regions such as Lombardy – in other words, the country’s business capital of Milan – and the report says the mafias have expanded there with the “complicity” of some politicians, as well as lawyers and accountants.

Again – perhaps especially in Italy – that comes as no surprise.

Another report this week – by Libera, an anti-Mafia association – says the average adult Italian spends nearly 1,300 Euros every year on slot machines, bingo and other forms of gambling. This 76 billion Euro market is Italy’s third biggest industry and the Libera report claims the Mafia have also now moved into what the report calls ‘new’ areas of business such as public health, transport and logistics.

Milan is known for its fashion industry and now seems to have picked up the latest street fashion – criminal organisations running not just Big Business but the country’s infrastructure.

Well, that is the story.

In fact, I think, as I said earlier, this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

In Italy, traditions run deep.

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Filed under Crime, Economics, Italy, Politics

Silvio Berlusconi and the Mafia man with easy access to the horses’ heads

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation as Prime Minister of Italy and quoted an English friend of mine who has lived there for around 25 years.

Yesterday, she told me the national newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an interesting front page.

The Rubik’s cube of Italian politics is not exactly simplified by the fact that the secret masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due), in effect, ran Italy from the end of the Second World War until at least 1976 and possibly until 1981. Its all-pervading power lay in its membership and links, which included Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia), politicians, media, the police and the intelligence services.

It was a bit like the Groucho Club with attitude problems and access to armed force.

A list of P2 members, discovered in 1981 included Silvio Berlusconi.

“Right in the centre of Corriere della Sera’s front page today,” my friend told me yesterday, “there is a photograph of the two Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who were both assassinated within a two month period in 1992 after they led the Italian government’s anti-Mafia investigation.

Corriere della Sera quotes Borsellino’s wife as saying he told her – only 24 hours before he was blown to bits in a car bomb outside his flat – that, if he was assassinated, it would not be the Mafia who killed him. Corriere della Sera presumably printed this article now because there is a current investigation into claims that the Italian State continues to be connected to organised crime in a big way.

“Ask yourself why,” my friend told me: “Ask yourself why – in this week of all weeks – on this day of all days – why this particular photo and story would be on the front page of a national newspaper that is otherwise all about Berlusconi…”

In his last video interview, given four days before Falcone’s assassination and two months before his own assassination, Paolo Borsellino spoke about the possible link between Cosa Nostra’s mafiosi and rich Italian businessmen including Silvio Berlusconi.

Borselino claimed that well-connected mafiosi Vittorio Mangano was the Sicilian Mafia’s link to its business interests in Northern Italy.

Somewhat bizarrely, Berlusconi employed Mangano to look after the horses at his villa in the small town of Arcore, near Milan, where Berlusconi lived. It has been alleged that Mangano’s real job may have been to deter kidnappers from targeting the Berlusconi’s children.

But there were also allegations made by Mafia supergrasses that Berlusconi was connected to the bomb blasts which killed Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Magistrates in Caltanissetta spent almost two years examining these allegations and decisively rejected them.

The mafiosi supergrasses had also apparently wrongly alleged Berlusconi had had contact with Mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Totò Riina and arranged legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra in exchange for Cosa Nostra support for his political party Forza Italia.

Politics – in Italy perhaps even more so than in other countries – is a dark art involving smoke and mirrors.

It also reminds me of the ancient Roman saying Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus sergeant.

It sounds very posh because it is Latin. But it has a more basic meaning:

“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.

Something that applies to all politicians.

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