You could hear the gravelly, nighttime voice of the prime minister in audiotaped conversations posted on the website of the news magazine L’Espresso. Not many of Italy’s newspapers had the courage to publish the transcripts, as explicit as a webpage for “chlamydia /symptoms” and just about as sexy. Apart from one RAI channel, Italian TV, both public and private, was as silent as the grave. But the tapes, secretly recorded by 42-year-old “escort” Patrizia D’Addario before, during and after her night with 72-year-old Silvio Berlusconi at his Roman residence, left nothing to the imagination. There was Patrizia saying “no way” when she hears that Berlusconi does not use condoms. There were comments about il lettone di Putin, “Putin’s big bed,” a glamorous-sounding romping ring that was promptly disavowed by the Russian prime minister. There was Berlusconi offering Patrizia professional advice: “If I may…you need to touch yourself on a regular basis.” And so forth.
You didn’t have to be a puritan to think this pirated pillow talk revealed at least a grave lack of judgment on the part of the Italian premier, if not actually the “illness” that his wife, Veronica, mentioned when she announced in May that she wanted a divorce. Both Patrizia and other young women courted by Berlusconi have said he offered them seats in the European Parliament. Yet the prime minister has refused all calls to answer questions in Parliament about his nightlife, and denounced the media coverage as “trash.” Toughing it out seems to be his strategy. Why, then, did he suddenly take a 90-degree turn last week and seem to acknowledge that the “trash” was true? “I’m no saint,” he said, adding that Italians liked him that way. True enough: San Silvio is one nickname nobody ever called him.
He’s been addressed as Papi, “Daddy” as in Sugar Daddy, the pet name used by the scores of young women, some of them underage, invited to parties at his Roman residence and to his Sardinian pleasure palace, where he housed them in special, purpose-built bungalows. He’s been called il Caimano, a nasty, hungry, aggressive alligator native to the Cayman Islands, the very sort of Caribbean fiscal paradise where Berlusconi’s excess wealth was alleged to be packed away. But the nickname that just might stick to him for posterity comes courtesy of the tough old Resistance fighter and crack journalist Giorgio Bocca, who dubbed him Piccolo Cesare: Little Caesar, the gangster who will forever have the squat legs and saturnine demeanor of Edward G. Robinson.
Of course we know he’s no saint, so who was Berlusconi addressing when he declared he was not? In part, he was speaking to all those Italian men who themselves are no saints when it comes to honoring their marriage vows, the ones enjoying the long twilight of machismo. But he was also sending a covert message of humility to the supreme judge of Italian morals, the Vatican. Like any other fallible Italian male, Berlusconi hopes the Church will pardon him his sins as prime minister, just as the Catholic clergy has traditionally rapped the knuckles of men who fell prey to the sin of Lust and then pardoned them (meanwhile comforting their women and urging them to look the other way). Humans, above all men, are going to sin; otherwise what are priests for?