18th June, 2008

The kind of column I’d write (if a newspaper should ever commission me to write one).

Today I went for a walk with Irene, a psychoanalyst. Every Wednesday we go for an hour and a half of walking-talking English conversation in the public park of Villa Ghigi. On the hills south of Bologna, you get fantastic views out across the city and, on a good day, you can almost see the mountains. I moan when she makes me walk uphill, she moans when I refuse to take a path because my shoes will get muddy. She says I’m just like her husband. (Sicilian with a moustache?). I like to think I’m like a latter-day Sophist, imparting linguistic wisdom – and gently trying to get her to put her tongue between her teeth to pronounce ‘th’ – as we meander through our itinerant lessons.

Today Irene’s humour was dark, in spite of the weather’s turn for the better. “I’m worried, angry and ashamed”, she told me. “Why?”, I asked. “I believe it’s the beginning of the end for Italy. Democracy is crumbling and the stupid Italian people don’t even realise it.”. Irene says she’s disappointed and disillusioned, like a lot of Bolognese people. This is Italy’s most traditionally left-wing city, and Irene is a typical Bolognese. She told me she believes Berlusconi is destroying Italy’s constitution “a fine, solid constitution”. She thinks his actions bear the signs of dictatorship. She even went as far as to say she was reminded of the start of Fascism. I asked her if she thought perhaps her mood was just a touch over-dramatic and she shook her head sadly. “Even if he died now, he has destroyed the meaning of our constitution. The people who voted for him are not even unhappy about what he’s doing to Italy. It’s incredible. It’s frightening.”

I must admit that I do wonder what made the Italians re-elect Berlusconi in spite of the blatant way in which he manipulates his political position to protect his own interests. My English friends often ask me “why do the Italians vote for Berlusconi?”; just last week a BBC TV journalist who was over here filming asked me this now familiar question. But I’m always at a loss for explanations. I honestly don’t know. From our British perspective – and also from that of the anti-Berlusconiani – he’s a criminal with almost certain Mafia connections, driven purely by self-interest rather than the interests of Italy. If you ask most of those who don’t fly his flag, they’ll tell you “Berlusconi went into politics because it was either the chamber of deputies or prison.” In his last 5 years in office, he certainly managed to pass some very handy laws for himself. Cooking the books is no longer a crime and inheritance taxes will be much less of a blow to his kids. He avoided prosecution by claiming all the judges in Milan were prejudiced against him and making sure his trials dragged on so long that they went into prescrizione: in other words, past their sell-by date (yes, in the Italian legal system, it seems this is possible).

Today’s latest chapter in the rise of the Berluscocracy was the news that he’s almost certain to get a law passed which will protect him, as Italy’s P.M., from being put on trial for anything. He will be above the law. Irene says he wants to “curb the powers of judges and gag journalists like in a dictatorship”. I wonder if, after five more years of Berlusconi, I will find myself in a non-liberal state? ’Tis a gloomy thought.

***

On a cheerier note, today I had two amusing phone experiences. The first was when someone cold- called me from Liguria to sell me some olive oil. She asked me if my mother was home. I liked that, aged 36. I witheringly told her I was the owner of the house before curbing her embarrassed response with a curt “thanks but no thanks”. But it was quite nice. Not as nice as being asked what I study though… which still happens! I love that. The other was when I phoned my boyfriend from my bike (on my hands free – need 2 hands to cycle) and got the answerphone. I left him a message. Then I phoned his mobile and he told me, “I’m at home”. I realised I’d dialed my home number. Don’t worry, that’s not the funny bit. When I got home, I listened to my messages and didn’t recognize myself in Italian at all. I had to play it twice because I’d forgotten I’d left myself a message in the first place, and I couldn’t work out who the hell the kid on the answerphone was.

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