Italy on the Rocks
It’s hard to resist likening the wreck of the Costa Concordia to the fate of Italy in recent times. The Concordia and the ship of state were commanded, respectively, by the reckless Francesco Schettino and the feckless Silvio Berlusconi, who left them derelict and foundering on the rocks. Both skippers tried to cover their follies with lies so ludicrous that if their deeds hadn’t been so dastardly they might be redeemed as clowns. Instead, they seem destined to go down in history alongside such tragicomic rogues as Nero, Cesare Borgia, and Benito Mussolini.
There’s some doubt that either the Concordia or the ship of state can be salvaged. Yet experts harbor a glimmer of hope that the giant liner could be righted, towed, and patched back together rather than cut up for scrap. Mario Monti’s emergency government, faced with more than runaway debts, falling credit ratings, and a shaky euro, is struggling to refloat the economy and bring Italy back to safe harbor. Wish him luck.
Come to think of it, my analogy might be a little lame. It took Schettino less than an hour to scrape a reef and leave the Concordia, with more than 4,200 persons aboard, capsized on a ledge of granite after telling potential rescuers that he had nothing more than a minor problem. Berlusconi spent the better part of 17 years denying that the ship of state leaked, while, in his cavalierly despotic way, blaming Italy’s plunging fortunes on everybody but himself.
The commander is widely despised as Capitan Codardo (Captain Coward). The ex-premier is scorned by a sizable segment of the public and press, who know him as il Cavaliere, the il suggesting singular status among Italy’s hundreds of thousands who won or wangled honorary knighthoods. Then again, if you own three of the seven main TV channels and manipulate three others of the state-run RAI (as Berlusconi did when he was Italy’s richest man and still in power), and if you use your own newspapers to insult adversaries as communists or coglioni (a term for testicles that also signifies putzes or jerks), you probably are unique among knights.
Schettino, 52, is at home in Sorrento awaiting trial on charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship, which could bring him up to fifteen years in the cooler. There’s some chance that he might actually serve a few of them, though he’s basing his defense on the line that Costa Crociere cruises required captains to swing past ports as publicity stunts. Costa denies this.
Berlusconi, 75, ensconced at his Arcore mansion notorious for bunga-bunga parties, faces more criminal charges than even his legions of lawyers can keep track of. Yet everybody knows he’ll emerge from courtrooms, where “The law is equal for all,” without serving a minute behind bars.
His exit from power may have given Italians a sigh of relief, but it will take years to get Berlusconismo out of their systems. During his reign, much legislation was aimed at protecting the premier from pinko prosecutors out to get him. Among Europe’s highest paid parliamentarians, 85 have either been convicted or charged with crimes. Of these, 57 are in Berlusconi’s party, Popolo della Libertà.
It figures that the Cavaliere’s kissing cronies in the political sphere were George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. Berlusca, as some call him, once described Barack Obama as a bright young man with a nice tan who had a lot to learn from old warriors like himself, George, and Vladimir. There might have been a hint of envy in that, since B’s own permatan seems to have been spread over the surface of an oft remodeled visage topped by a slick of transplanted hair of indelible ruddy brown. He’s adored by cartoonists, thanks to his double-breasted suits and elevator shoes, and the looks of a figure in a wax museum with an expression transfixed between a grimace and a shit-eating grin.
But there I go again, venting my disdain for what a cover of The Economist hailed as “The man who screwed an entire country.” Not to worry. I’m not about to turn Beyond Vino into a political forum. This time that lame ship analogy was hard to resist. But there are a whole lot of topics I’d rather discuss than the sordid world of politics.
To tell the truth, after a long voyage as a free-lance navigator my good ship Lolipop is also on the rocks. I too, like our two captains, have a way of blaming my sinking on others, starting with Wall Street bankers whose greed sparked the worldwide economic crisis that in turn ruined Italy’s real estate market. But deep down I know that I have nobody to blame but myself for believing that I could sell a gorgeous old house in the heart of Tuscany for enough profit to build a gorgeous new (but smaller) house in the coastal Maremma with a nice surplus as a nest egg for the golden years.
If you happen to know somebody who’s looking for a gorgeous old house in the heart of Tuscany, please steer them toward www.tuscanydreamhome.com. If this sound like a plea for sympathy, it’s not. It’s an SOS.