Sunday, August 15, 2004

For a comment on Mr. Blair’s visit to Mr. Berlusconi at Villa Certosa tomorrow, see today’s (15 August) Independent on Sunday or click on

For a comment on democracy, click on:

Silly season: the smells and (non-wedding) bells.

Ferragosto is a good moment to leave the affairs of state and turn to serious holiday matters. There are a couple of suitable stories, one which shows how much Italy has changed especially in the south and the other which shows how much further England has to go towards European integration.

A long time ago, Lawrence Durrell wrote a sketch of diplomatic life called “If garlic be the food of love” about the havoc that an innocent bulb could cause in Her Majesty’s Chancery in some farflung land. It was a time when most Britons would have suffered Dracula’s teeth rather than risk continental tastes and smells.

Today, we are all men and women of the world, with every Sainsburys, Tescos and Waitrose overflowing with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, Parma ham, Umbrian virgin olive oil and a full cornucopia of Italian goodies. The British by now know what these things taste and smell like so for London Transport to spend £100,000 presenting Italian produce as examples of smelly food was first of all ignorant even before it was offensive. The poster campaign showed clearly marked Italian products to try and persuade Londoners not to eat smelly food on the tube. London Transport said if was supposed to be “lighthearted”. The Italian ambassador and Chamber of Commerce were not amused.

Even worse than British intelligence which only presumed there were WMD in Iraq without having to look for any at home, Ken Linvingstone’s London initiative completely ignored the chemical weapons which are openly deployed throughout the city every day. In past times, it was mutton and cabbage which assailed the innocent abroad in a London street. Today it is fried chicken and hot dogs; the chicken, poor creaturetakes its revenge for a short and batteried life by making passerby nearly throw up with its odour. The oil it was fried in was once (probably) an honest corn oil, hardly perfume when fresh but worthy of Ypres in 1915 after a week’s frying. As for hot dogs, the less said about them, the better.

While we’re on the subject of city fragrances, London can be a particularly dangerous place during a heat wave like now when the natives love to strip off. The British relationship to modern sanitary appliances is much like the Italians towards banking; they invented them but have not updated them since. And they use them as rarely as Italians use banks.

In Italy, in contrast, if you can avoid the exhaust pollution, the smells are perfumes from fresh pizza to vanilla and cinnemon; even the frying and grilling never seems to linger beyond the mouthwatering phase.

This is the Italy that Ken should emulate not ignorantly pillory.

If Britain still has some way to go to European olfactory integration, Italy has taken a step towards the rest of the world, and not in the right direction.

Time was that just about everything in Italy was linked with politics… except sex. Many politiicians no doubt sublimated their natural instincts; many clearly did not but neither were the subject of comment far less resignations.

A story from Cosenza in Calabria seems to be bringing the south into tabloid mainstream. The city’s unmarried mayor declared a fortnight ago that she was pregnant but that she would continue in her job. She did not name the father. Two days later, a fellow city councillor and local leader of the DS told the press that he was the father, that he had confessed to his wife and children and was in a state of turmoil. Her first name is Eva and his surname is Adamo so you can imagine the headlines.

Gone was any hint of high southern drama, today’s cavalleria urbana has no challenges, no duels (apart from long-distance sniping between Adam and Eve in newpaper columns); instead it is a story of a self-confident post-feminist professional woman and a vulnerable and clumsy male upstaged in the media and in his amours. Eve has sold her story to the downmarket gossip weakly Gente and has written a public letter to her son due in January and is compiling a dossier on the affair, evidently with some pride. Adam has resigned as councillor and will no doubt go into analysis.

The final curtain has not come down yet and while it is progress that the drama will not end with “hanno ucciso compare Turiddu”, sex in politics is no step forward for the country.

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