Monday, 31 December 2007

The willies

The extraordinary Phil Cool does Terry Wogan. The real Terry Wogan. If anyone has a copy of Phil Cool doing Ronald Reagan (that's right: the real Ronald Reagan), I hope they let me know.

A creative spring

In his Terminal note to Maurice, EM Forster writes that the novel was the direct result of a visit in 1913 to the 'socialist and Whitmannic poet' Edward Carpenter at Millthorpe. Forster comments:

t must have been on my second or third visit to the shrine that the spark was kindled and he and his comrade George Merrill combined to make a profound impression on me and to touch a creative spring. George Merrill also touched my backside - gently and just above the buttocks. I believe he touched most people's. The sensation was unusual and I still remember it, as I remember the position of a long vanished tooth. It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving my thoughts. If it really did this, it would have acted in strict accordance with carpenter's yogified mysticism, and would prove that at that precise moment I had conceived.

I was reminded of this scene when I met the author of Akenfield, Ronald Blythe, in Aldeburgh. I'd learnt earlier that day that he used to come to Aldeburgh to shop with Forster so my first thought was something along the lines of diachronic degrees of separation. Only four between me and Whitman, I calculated, and this is where my memory or myth-making tendencies - what my mother called 'romancing' - played me false. Because I was convinced, first, that it was Carpenter himself, not Merrill, who'd laid hands on Morgan's backside and, second, that Carpenter had been blessed in similar fashion by Walt Whitman. At which point. Morgan's creative stroking of Blythe's bum was a foregone conclusion and all that was missing was Blythe's own fair hand on my own fair small of back. I wouldn't say I took the position, in the manner of a beta male orang-utan, though I do admit to a momentary flirt with the Suffolk historian and baton-holder, in my eyes, in the greatest race. Well, my bum went unrewarded, but I did get a warm palm pressed against mine and a whispered, Thank you, my darling boy. It will do.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Bad manners

It might not have been the most stomach-turning thing I saw this year, but it came close. Travelling to Rome by train a few weeks ago, I watched the youngish smartly-dressed woman on the seat opposite me carefully twist a lock of hair into a strand and then use the strand, with considerable vigour, to floss her teeth.

Words are also actions

I saw two films on TV over Christmas that touched me deeply, in different ways. The first was The Motorcycle Diaries by Walter Salles, based on the journals kept by Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado during a life-changing epic motorcycle ride round South America. It's a directorial tour de force, drawing on genres for what they can offer, discarding them when they no longer serve the purpose. It's not a buddy movie, however much the film examines the changing relationship between the two friends, their affections, their differences - both emotional and political. It's not a road movie, despite the essentially picaresque narrative structure: this happens, that happens, they move on, they meet new people, they fall in love and out of it. What makes it more than a collection of episodes is the cumulative effect the episodes have on the two main characters, particularly Ernesto, a sensitive asthmatic who can't tell a lie for the life of him, or anyone else. The clearest signs of the ruthlessness that enabled him to become the Che of legend are when he simply can't not tell the truth, however painful to others, and to himself, it might be; it's a feature of revolutionaries that the individual sensibility can be sacrificed for the larger notion, and it's to the credit of the wonderful Gael Garcia Bernal that he makes this seem an entirely admirable characteristic.

Quite by chance, I saw Papillon a few weeks ago, for the first time in over thirty years, and it's interesting to compare how the two films dealt with leprosy. In Papillon, the lepers are not only people with a problem, but also - if not primarily - a testing ground for the hero's courage. For this to work, the head leper is suitably monstrous. In The Motorcycle Diaries, on the other hand, the le
pers are seen as an opportunity for compassion, and solidarity. (Interestingly, both films see nuns as hypocrites). What the film left me with was a sense that one life can change many lives and that the quality - and consequence - of those changes might be utterly unpredictable, but that maybe we shouldn't be put off by this. Maybe there is a case for the kind of struggle Che continues to represent. Perhaps the real hero, though, was Che's friend, who set up the Santiago Medical School (I think), creating the one thing for which Cuba can wholeheartedly and unreservedly be praised, and that might never have existed without the work of Che and Castro.

The other film was The History Boys, based on the Alan Bennett play, with the extraordinary Richard Griffiths as Mr Hector, the 'general studies' teacher, preparing a group of sixth-formers for Oxbridge entrance in the early 1980s. Hector's a charismatic teacher but of a curiously low-key sort, as far removed from the character portrayed by Robin Williams in The Dead Poet's Society as is humanly possible.It's always interesting to me to see how much most genuine teachers loathe DPS and how much it's adored by students (in Italy, at least). It's as though teachers recognise how easily the kind of power Williams portrays can be misused and understand that it is, essentially, no different from that of his less hip colleagues. He's still just telling people how to behave. Which, of course, is exactly what students want: to be told what to do by someone who seems to be providing some kind of cool alternative, both to the other teachers and to what the world has to offer. What makes Hector such a wonderful creation is the extreme modesty of his tyranny (he is not, after all, a facilitator). To all intents and purposes, he lets his boys get on with it, as they improvise scenes in a French brothel or act out the final scene from Brief Encounter. They're fond of him, more than they realise, but not enchanted, which is as it should be; enchantment is the last thing a teacher should be up to.

The other theme of the film, of course, is what we do with being gay. Hector is gay, as is Irwin, the new-broom-sweeping-clean teacher and one or two, maybe three of the boys, which made me wonder, with some regret, why my own school days should have been so resolutely straight. I found Hector's plight as a frustrated ephebophile touching and couldn't rebuke him for the delicacy of his solution to it - gauchely groping his pillion rider as the lollipop lady halted the traffic (the motorcycle connection?). But I also wondered why Posner, his star pupil, whose attitude to his own gayness seemed stoically matter-or-fact rather than self-reproaching, should have wanted to take the same rather Edwardian path of sexual self-sacrifice that his teacher/mentor had. The film often seemed to be lurching between two quite incompatible worlds: one of caution and evasion, in which EM Forster - and possibly the young Alan Bennett - might have felt at home; and an altogether more contemporary one in which sixth-formers swore in front of their betters, offered themselves up for oral sex and saw learning in terms of its providing access to Thatcher-era success.

The best part for me, despite all the sexual, and sexy, undertow of the film, was towards the end, when Hector explains how much he hates those people who say they 'love words' and 'literature' (you have to hear his lugubrious enunciation of these terms to get the full contempt), as though genuflecting to high culture were a way of not having to think about its implications.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Father(s) Christmas

A little disturbing to see the sleigh-born benefactor himself accompanied by his smaller, but otherwise identical daemon, rather like Austin Powers with Mini Me. Still, at least he isn't dangling from a glittering rope outside the bedroom window, like most Santa Clauses these past two or three years. I wonder how parents explain to their children how Santa Claus is capable of reproducing himself in this indiscriminate fashion. It must be as hard to make sense of as - I don't know - the virgin birth.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas roast

The British press has been titillated these past few days over the pre-Christmas party organised by Manchester United players. It started off chastely enough, with drag queens and lap dancing, but subsequently adjourned to a hotel, entirely booked for the occasion, in the company of a hundred aspiring WAGs. As one journalist pointed out, you don’t book a hotel unless you intend to use the rooms. Six footballers (or five, according to your source; the actual number may or may not be academic) and one young woman did indeed use one of the rooms, apparently to their mutual satisfaction. It’s thanks to their sexual antics that large swathes of middle Britain are now acquainted with the more exotic meaning of roasting.
Marina Hyde, in the Guardian, commented, quite rightly in my opinion, that the footballers weren’t driven by passion or even lust – one in six is actually not that hot a ratio if you’re one of the six – but by their desire to emulate the internet porn that has taught them all they know about what men do with women. And yet. And yet.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of a group of men, fluidly numbered but at no time fewer than four. In my case, it wasn’t so much roasting as microwaving saveloys, but I don’t recall feeling humiliated or exploited, or even dirty. What I recall is being up for it in an eager, undiscriminating – OK, drunken – way. I was thirty, not seventeen, and the men I was with, in the loosest sense, were almost certainly not professional footballers, so my motives were almost certainly purer and more pondered than those of the aspiring Victoria Beckham in Room 101 (or whatever). Almost certainly. After all, I didn’t give head (or anything else) for a recording contract or the newest quilted handbag, the one that looks more like a shrunken anorak than an iconic fashion object (but what do I know?). I didn’t expect to be interviewed by Hello, or snubbed by Lindsay Lohan, or have my ‘life’ filmed for a Channel 4 documentary (though I wouldn’t have minded). I wasn’t after anything much beyond the moment, some time around 3 am on a Friday morning if I remember rightly, on my knees behind a laurel bush and, well, lapping it up in the most literal sense. I was happy, more than happy, to be there.

Maybe I had to be self-hating to find it fun, by which I mean radically naughty and thrilling and life-enhancing, but I did. And that’s the problem. Because I don’t think she did, the girl who was roasted in some hotel in Manchester and was happy because they’d said she was a good fuck. And I don’t think they did either, the would-be Jeff Strykers and John Holmeses, queuing for their go at whatever bit of her was free. And that’s a pity. Because if it isn’t fun, it’s not much more than a career move in a very crowded profession. It’s bags and shoes and interviews, assuming you can find your knickers.

Thursday, 20 December 2007


There's an interesting piece today by Peter Popham, the Independent's Rome correspondent, about his experiences with the Italian health system. Under an unnecessarily gloomy headline (Thinking of travelling to Italy for treatment? I would think again), the article kicks off by praising the country's emergency services for being fast, efficient, non-discriminatory and, above all, free. This echoes my experience. I've taken innumerable visiting friends with the most unlikely ailments and found humour, diligence, precision and drugs. On one memorable occasion, a stoutly devout New Yorker (by adoption) who'd tried to jump the queue by claiming to have a dodgy heart (rather than the less urgent sciatica) thanked the doctor who'd just pumped painkiller into her bottom with a macaronic Dio benedire tua famiglia (God to bless your family). Che Dio benedica la sua schiena invece (I'd rather God blessed your back), he replied.

He's less impressed by the care offered to less urgent cases. I think he's a little unfair here. After all, the Italian health system has just been judged, by WHO, the second best in the world (after France); the UK came 27th. Still, he could have a point. You may remember the problems I had with insurance after breaking my shoulder in Britain last year. Now where was I? Oh yes, I'd just arrived at the casualty department of an English hospital with an oddly dead arm. I was diagnosed within half an hour as the bearer of a humerus with a compound fracture and told to come back on Monday. Today was Friday. I have to fly back to Italy on Monday, I said. Oh well, they said, and gave me a scrap of cotton to use as a sling. You'd better go to hospital in Italy then. I was prescribed painkillers for the weekend. I queued at the hospital pharmacy, my dead arm in its scrap of cotton, and paid up for some codeine. I took them back to where my mother was waiting, distraught, in casualty and asked for a glass of water. I'm sorry, the woman said, we don't do water. You can get a bottle from the café.

Three days of excruciating almost sleepless pain later I was in Italy. Home. I went to my local hospital. They were shocked that so little had been done, with a sort of patriotic pride that the famous English national health had sent me away with nothing but a bottle of pills and a knotted handkerchief, but themselves did nothing; they didn't have an orthopaedic department. I was sent ten miles away to Terracina, which did. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, it was closed for lunch. I waited, sitting in the car, accustomed by now to the throb of my right arm as it wobbled in its paltry sling, wondering what would happen next. More x-rays, for which I had to beg (they should have been done at Fondi), and a prescription for an authentic two part, padded sling. Plus odd little injections into the stomach that Giuseppe had to do for me because I couldn't reach down to pucker the skin and jab at the same time.

In many ways, Popham's right. There was bureaucracy to deal with and the cost of 'tickets', as they're known here, with that fondness Italians have for concealing unpleasantries beneath the language of others. So why don't I agree with the article? Because I didn't feel dismissed, as I did in Wolverhampton. I didn't feel as though I had to pay for the water I needed to take my pills. It isn't the money as such, but the mean spiritedness of it that shocked me. There's something perverse about prescribing pills and denying the water that's needed to take them. Unless you buy a bottle of pure spring Malvern water, or whatever the label says it is you're drinking to ease the pain.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Starving Makes it Fat

If you're feeling peckish for something throught-provoking and slightly creepy, try Kay Sexton's fabulous new story on East of the Web. It's called Starving Makes it Fat and it's a cracker (a high-fibre, low-fat cracker, naturally).

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

More of the same old religious shite

It's barely worth commenting on the fact that the centre-left majority on Rome was yesterday unable to approve either of two motions to grant some sort of legitimacy to civil unions. Neither would have made any difference but, given that we live in a world of political gestures as much as of acts, every litle helps. The left-left proposal, to establish a register for civil unions, was thrown out by Vatican groupies in the centre-left. The centre-left proposal (if such a feeble almost lifeless creature can be considered such), to ask the government to have another little think about the whole business, was also summarily thrown out, this time by the left (and everyone else). Once again, it's a case of Vatican 1, Italy 0.

It wouldn't be worth commenting at all if someone called Elio Sgreccia, archbishop and president of the pontifical academy for life (you couldn't make it up), hadn't decided to gloat. This grotesque old porker has announced that homosexuals shouldn't be discrimated against, but simply steered as rapidly as possible into the arms of a psychologist for the necessary therapeutic help (presumably the kind undergone by crystal-meth-and-male-massage addict, Ted Haggard).

Let's assume the bigoted toad isn't being merely cynical, but actually believes what he says. Let's give him the benefit of that doubt. In which case, it might be pertinent to ask ourselves whether a man who has almost certainly never had a meaningful relationship in his adult life with another human being (I'm being generous here), who has never engaged in any useful activity other than telling people what they should and shouldn't do, who has never paid a penny in tax or known what it means to worry about a bill, who has evidently sublimated his healthy sexual instincts into the pleasures of the table - a man, in other words, who has served no useful biological or social purpose of any kind might not be a more suitable case for psychiatric treatment than, say, me. Or millions of others.

Physician, heal thyself.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Combs, poodles, sunglasses, white silk scarves

Franco Zeffirelli, ageing film director, thinks the Pope needs a makeover, according to a short but sadly riveting piece in today's Independent. Apparently, Eggs Benedict is too cold and too showy. Unlike cuddly, downbeat Franco.

Borges described the Malvinas war
as two bald men squabbling over a comb. I wonder what he'd have had to say about this potential tiff. Two toothless poodles fighting over a boner? Of course, the pope of fucking everything might, just this once, have the dignity to not respond.

I'm expecting an official statement from the Vatican as I write.

Wigan says no to wingnuts

It's not often I feel like applauding Wigan Council (or even mentioning it, despite my being half Lancastrian). But the news that it's refused permission to a group of wealthy wingnuts who wanted to build a creationist theme park on the site of an old B & Q store brings joy to my heart. The promoters, AH Trust, apparently think that multimedia displays of the world being whipped up out of nowt in six days will stop young people from binge drinking. Well, it's a fond, but foolish, hope. In the meantime, the Trust is still looking for somewhere that wants its "two interactive cinemas, a cafeteria, six shops and a television recording studio, allowing it to produce its own Christian-themed films and documentaries." I can't wait. (Thanks to the Guardian for this.)

Peter Jones, one of the trustees, said:
"Wigan council slammed the door in our faces. You mention the C [Christian] word, and people don't want to know."

I wonder if the Guardian supplied the gloss. After all, Christian isn't the first C-word that springs to mind.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Red bull? Papal bull? Plain bull...

Thanks to the efforts of one humourless Sicilian priest (Father Marco Damanti, if you care), who's played the blasphemy card and scared Red Bull into compliance, you'll no longer be able to see this harmless advertisement on Italian television.

Never mind, you can see it here.

Grim reaper

There's a jolly piece by Andy McSmith in today's Independent. Entitled Dancing on their graves and triggered by Tina Turner's unsurprisingly cool response to her ex-husband's demise, it casts an eye over some of the more memorably sour, if not downright cruel, reactions to other people's deaths. As someone who's never been at all afraid to say good riddance at the news of some despicable shit shuffling off his or her mortal coil, I thoroughly enjoyed the article and am looking forward to being able to celebrate the sound of, say, Margaret Thatcher or Eggs Benedict's bucket being resoundingly kicked.

On a style note, this short post contains four different ways of referring to mortality
(plus one in the title). You may have noticed and wondered why. The fact is that I've decided to avoid repetition, that bulwark of robust English prose, and adopt the Latinate use of synonyms as a gesture of goodwill towards my Italian readers. I do this without irony. Pietro Citati, kiss my ass. Ovvero Osculate my posterior.

On a purely informative note, the first pages to appear if you Google 'death' are two Wikipedia articles on, first, a death metal band called Death and, second, death metal music itself. These are followed by a fascinating site called the Death Clock, which tells you how long you're likely to live and provides a countdown, in seconds, to the actual moment of, er, death. (Yes, back to repetition.) It's a fun thing to do. By the way, optimism helps.

Friday, 14 December 2007

A post for Tyla

This is a post for Tyla, who's depressed about the run-up to the US presidential elections. As you say, Tyla, "Just answer the question!" In the meantime, I'll try to keep you amused with my potted accounts of why nothing works here either.

The image is the work of Chris Lee Jones and can be found, attached to the front of a T-shirt, at the fabulous Threadless T-Shirts. You may still be in time for Christmas. Even if you aren't, the sentiment this expresses is timeless, now that history, as Fukuyama told us, is dead. Wear it with whatever. Pride. Hell, it's all the same shit.

Manu Chao: La Radiolina

I love Manu Chao, and I love his new album, La Radiolina. If you love him too and you'd like to download one of the best tracks, take advantage of today's Guardian offer and click here.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

John Updike: Terrorist

Incredibly, Terroristis the first Updike novel I've read (I know, I know...) and, on the heels of De Lillo's disappointing Falling Man, with which it has several points in common, I found it a far better book. It takes on one element of post 9/11 America - what makes a terrorist? - and, unlike De Lillo, produces a portrait that hits home because of the unexpected sympathy it evokes. Updike's terrorist, the son of an artistic life-loving Irish nurse and an Egyptian exchange student who disappeared when Ahmad was three, is a refined, fastidious young man, respectful and self-respecting, utterly three-dimensional, in many ways a son of whom anyone would feel proud. Under the thrall of his local imam, yet also aware of his imam's failings, Ahmad is slowly drawn into a web of fundamentalist extremism, with the inevitable consequences (sort of). What makes the book so engaging and effective is Updike's refusal to demonise Ahmad himself. On the contrary, he's wormed his creative way into the boy's predicament with enormous skill, ending up as close to him as Ahmad's neck-vein is to God. Indeed, the person who might be considered to suffer most from the novelist's pitiless gaze is the obese wife of Ahmad's school counsellor, Jack Levy. Levy, in many ways the counterpoint to Ahmad, at least partially corroborates the views of the boy as he gazes on the world around him. There's a sense in which Updike's own distaste seems to inform the characters, maybe to the novel's detriment, but it's refreshingly ecumenical, extending well beyond the conniving imam to the vacuous self-aggrandising secretary of state.

The fact that Updike has chosen to work with a small group of characters and to use a tightly constructed, almost thriller-like, plot leads to one or two moments in which disbelief must usefully be suspended, but this shouldn't detract from the overall impact of the book, nor the excitement of the final chapter.

Chequebook politics

Berlusconi's famous for the lavish gift he bestows on friends, colleagues, employees, visiting heads of state. He's fond of inscribed gold watches but anything flashy and expensive will do, so long as it encourages (or rewards) loyalty and impresses his underlings. Just ask Putin, or Blair. This time, though, he seems to have been a little too explicit about the nature of the loyalty he expects.

Yesterday's Repubblica contained news of an investigation being conducted into allegations that the corrupt buffoon tried to buy the vote (or absence during the vote) of centre-left senator Nino Randazzo and other unnamed senators. Randazzo was personally offered a post in the new government and all his electioneering expenses if he brought Prodi's government down. Indeed, he was actually shown a contract to this effect. Randazzo refused il Capo's generous offer.

Berlusconi was also in contact with Agostino Saccà, head of RaiFiction. During one of their chats about how to use public service television to massage the whims of his political allies (as in, Bossi wants a TV drama based on Frederick Barbarossa), Berlusconi opens his heart.

"Socialmente mi sento come il Papa: tutti mi amano. Politicamente, mi sento uno zero... e dunque per sollevare il morale del Capo, mi devi fare un favore. Vedi se puoi aiutare...". (Socially,I feel like the Pope: everyone loves me. Politically, I'm if you want to improve il Capo's morale, you've got to do me a favour. See if you can help...)
This touching confession is followed by the names of four aspiring actresses. They aren't just friends, or friends of friends, or daughters of friends, of Berlusconi. One of them, a certain Evelina Manna is also 'close' to a centre-left senator who, according to Silvio, will help him bring down the government if his totty gets taken on.

Naturally, there'll be something in it for Saccà as well. Berlusconi gives his word. And il Capo's word is his bond.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Giuseppe Mallia: Fichi d'India

This is hanging in the kitchen, by the fridge. The paint extends beyond the board onto the frame, reinforcing the immediacy of the picture and giving it an iconic authenticity, as though its meaning could not quite be contained. It's fields of colour, naturalistic in only the most rudimentary way, a quote from Giuseppe's childhood. It could almost be used to illustrate the letter C for Cactus in a primer.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Books of the year

Picador asked me to write something about the books I've most enjoyed this year. I did. You can read it here.

The Scent of Cinnamon (again)

Another small but perfectly-formed review of The Scent of Cinnamon, this time from the Oakland Tribune. You can read it here. It's wonderful, as usual, to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Alice Munro, but I'm particularly pleased that the reviewer also noticed Adam Haslett's story, one of my own favourites from the O. Henry Prize Stories 2007.

Monday, 10 December 2007

The Almost Corner Bookshop

Once upon a time there was a bookshop in Rome called the Corner Bookshop. It still exists, but it's moved slightly up from the river - wisely, as climatic things go - and is now the Almost Corner Bookshop. It's run by the delightful Dermot O'Connell, has a poetry section that would put many far larger bookshops to shame and has already ordered two copies of Little Monsters. If you're in Rome and have nothing to read and want to go to a genuine bookshop (i.e. one where the owner likes, and knows about, books) you could do an awful lot worse than pass by Via del Moro 45 and say hello to Dermot. The shop's in Trastevere, just a few doors away from Mario's, a trattoria I once couldn't live without (in the most basic sense), so you can combine the visit with any number of other pleasurable things (the Minimumfax bookshop just up the road isn't bad either). And in most cases you won't spend any more than you would if you bought the books at home (assuming Rome isn't your home). Come on. You've read Doris Lessing's Nobel speech (I hope). Now buy the books. Read. Turn off the computer Stop blogging. Read. (Oh God.)

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Lest we forget...

... the true meaning of Christmas. This authentic mooning elf, and other festive delights, including a rabbit nativity, Mother Teresa breath spray and the world's grossest cooking tool, can all be found here.

Hate (crimes) postscript

Come on, you don't need me to translate this for you. Make an effort. Sweat a little. After all, you never know how useful these very words might be on your next trip to Italy. You might bump into a cardinal and want to introduce yourself. You might glance up from the deck of your yacht to see Mastella sunning himself with a bevy (as I believe they're called) of topless lovelies. You might be shopping for souvenirs at the SM counter of a sexy shop (yes, that's what they're called) and see Binetti hanging round the harness section. You might be on the receiving end of a homophobic gang attack and have nothing but words to defend yourself with. Because there won't be any law there to help you.

Hate (crimes)

The Italian government is in one of its periodic kerfuffles about gay rights and the lack of them. A clause introduced into the long-suffering security bill currently passing through parliament aims to impose sentences for acts of violence or discrimination on the basis of race, sex and sexual orientation. Analogous to the kind of hate crime legislation that's disturbing sensitive family-loving souls in the States, it's based on the Treaty of Amsterdam and is as bland as semi-skimmed milk.

But you wouldn't think so from the way self-mortifying catholic Paola Binetti (see illustration) sprang into action, refusing to vote with the government, rambling on about natural law, etc. She was followed by the usual suspects, not least the ever-present justice minister, Clemente Mastella, a man for whom nepotism and corruption are essential components of the air he breathes, who doesn't appear to see that justice is only justice when applied to all. Giulio Andreotti, man of honour and best buddy to the Vatican, also piped up with a moral qualm or two.

Now it turns out the clause refers to the wrong part of the Treaty, so doesn't exist. This may be a way of solving the problem (in the sense of burying the whole business beneath a ton or two of sand) or of prolonging it. I suspect the latter. But the real problem isn't this scrap of legislation, which any normal country would have voted through unblinkingly. It's the presence of people like Binetti in the newly-formed Partito Democratico. There may be a place for religious bigotry in the government (though I doubt it), but that place shouldn't be a centre-left grouping that has absorbed a sizeable chunk of what's left of the Italian Communist Party.

If she wants to preach her poisonous nonsense in parliament wouldn't it be fairer to herself and everyone else if she joined one of the parties for whom prejudice and discrimination are daily bread? Ex-bovver boy Francesco Storace has just set up a little party for himself and a few chums called, in a moment of exceptional candour, La Destra (The Right) - presumably because there's no money involved. Wouldn't that dark but cosy enclave provide a more congenial home for the wearisome bigot and and her bible-thumping family-values-loving friends? And wouldn't it be refreshing if the newly-appointed leader of the PD, Walter Veltroni, interrupted his ongoing tête-a-tête with Silvio B. to suggest that she take her criminal hatred elsewhere because no democratic party worthy of the name was prepared to tolerate it?

Friday, 7 December 2007


Something restful to look at after a hard few days' work, although these ducks, bucolic as they may seem, are actually protected by foxes from an electric fence and have seen their numbers rise and fall in the most precarious and bloody way. They're only a few miles from the sea and a splendid estuary, but clearly prefer their pond and its mediated dangers.

Off picture, to the left, is a cunning structure of chicken wire and struts, which protects the ducks and their eggs from marauders, although I can't remember what these are. Presumably, they arrive from above. Crows? Magpies? The structure also makes it possible for their owners to steal their eggs whenever they choose, which, post 9/11, comes under the heading of 'the price we pay for freedom'.

The female ducks have curly tails, the male ducks don't. Or is it the other way round?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

All broken items must be paid for

Just under fifteen months ago I broke my shoulder. It wasn't really my fault. I wasn't doing anything dangerous. I wasn't drunk, or cycling, or clicking my heels in the air: activities that have led to injuries in the past. I was crossing an urban road in the rain to cancel my place in a taxi queue (please, this is all true) and was forced to leap out of the way of a car turning onto the road. The driver leant across and wound down the window. 'All right, mate?' he said. Sprawled hopelessly, surrounded by shopping from Marks and Spencer's, I must have done something reassuring because he wound up the window and drove off before I had a chance to ask myself if I actually was all right or not.

I wasn't. When I tried to put the shopping back in its bags I realised my right arm didn't work. It didn't exactly hurt, just dangled in a lumpen way from my shoulder, as though denied all rights. My fingers still jiggled to order, which was a relief. I watched two middle-aged women gather my shopping for me, feeling oddly light-headed, struck by the suddenness of it all.

My mother, sheltering at a bus stop, was frantic. She was the one who'd decided there was no point trying to get a taxi mid-afternoon because they would all be doing the school run. Apparently, it's now normal practice in provincial England for children to be carried home in taxis. For a moment, hearing the screech of brakes and the multiple intake of breath, she'd thought I was dead. When she understood what had happened, she held herself to blame.

There's a long story about medical inadequacies and maltreatment that I'll save for another post. Because today I'm happy. Today, after two mislaid cheques, innumerable faxes and irate telephone calls and, even worse, irate non-telephone calls because all I could get hold of was a recorded messsage, after two visits to the insurance office in Latina, an hour and a half from here, the first infuriated and then mollified, the second (today's) incredulous and relieved, I have the money I'm owed. It's not as much as some people get for accidents of this kind, I've been told by wiser (Italian) friends, but I have it in my hand. My right hand. Which I can raise without effort in the air and wave about. The only thing I wouldn't be able to do with it is fasten a bra, so it's a good thing I never wear one.

The humerus in the photograph above belongs to a pig.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Gazebo madness

While I was away last weekend, Silvio Berlusconi got up to one of his customary wheezes. The jape was a replica of the one he organised a few weeks ago, when the corrupt buffoon (Mail on Sunday) covered the country with Forza Italia gazebos (gazebi?) and held a private 'referendum' to send the Prodi government home, wherever that might be. According to the ex-crooner, millions of Italians flocked to the gazebos to vote, while those who didn't availed themselves of his dedicated phone vote lines (€1.88 plus VAT). Sounds like I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here? Well, of course it does, although here the intention was to get a politician out and a celebrity back in. We're used to leaders like Putin and Mugabe rigging elections so the final figures weren't surprising, though Berlusconi's referendum bore as much relation to a political election as Berlusconi does to a politician.

Shortly after, he announced the founding of a new party that would finally express the will of the people (seem familiar? try saying volk). In order to ensure that this will would be expressed with perfect unanimity he elected himself leader of the new party, established its internal structure, announced its programme and told everyone who would be in it and who wouldn't.

But, as everyone knows, it isn't the product that counts in politics so much as the packaging. Which is why he turned to the people to decide the new party's name. He didn't want to make things too complicated: Berlusconi fans tend to be bears of rather little brain (or people who stand to gain). He kept the choice simple: People for Freedom or Party for Freedom. Both have the same acronym (PdL), so he can get to work on the pencils and flags right away. In the meantime, it was out with the gazebos. And the phone lines (€1.88 plus VAT). And the lies about turn-out.

And would you believe it? The name Berlusconi wanted to win came up trumps. Bless.