The stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo, like the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini before him, has a craving to take over the piazza and mesmerise the crowd. Where once young Italians chanted the mantra ‘Du-ce! Du-ce!’ now they chant ‘Bep-pe! Bep-pe!’. But it is not just a shared need to rant and rave at large numbers of complete strangers that hirsute Beppe and bald Benito have in common. Worryingly, for Italy and also for Europe (where democracy seems incapable of solving the existential crisis), there is a lot more to it than that.
The news is dominated by tales of ‘sexual misconduct’ by men in positions of power, and nowhere is the smell of sleaze as strong as in Westminster. Our politicians work in a building formally known as a ‘palace’ where they are often treated like kings — and, occasionally, behave like them. Even more occasionally, the rest of the world catches a glimpse of what is going on.
There has always been a certain tolerance of sexual misbehaviour, which is more often the subject of jokes than outrage.
An unfamiliar noise floats over the town; an insistent, one-note metallic drone. Tracked to its source, it turns out to come from a sawmill in a hidden wooded valley a quarter of a mile from my house. Abandoned for the past year, the mill has suddenly come back to life. It is emitting great plumes of steam as well as a multi-decibel industrial racket. And men are working there — I can see only two or three, but still they constitute another little piece of the great employment puzzle.
In a corner of the Sistine Chapel, below Michelangelo’s hell, is a door to the little chamber they call ‘the room of tears’. Some painter-decorators are in there, frantically doing the place up. That’s because, in a matter of days, a new Pope will be led into the room. According to tradition, at that moment, as he first contemplates the magnitude of his role, he will weep.
A myth, you might think.
From a wedding to an awards ceremony, no self-respecting Los Angeles beano can take place without endless fixtures around the main event. The Oscars barely get a look in between a clutch of warm-ups and afterparties. The Friday night (Oscar night being Sunday) is traditionally the preserve of the agents, the most high-profile of whom throw open the doors of their Hollywood homes to their clients — and no one else.