When you first break with tradition, it often comes accompanied by a soundtrack similar to a herd of elephants in a china store. I’m thinking of things like, oh, little black girls attending a white school in America’s south, the investiture of a gay Bishop, the end of Apartheid, or even the first sounds of Elvis’ form of Rock n’ Roll.
And so it is, in a country heaped in tradition when it comes to making and breaking marriage vows (both done with impunity), that the very public divorce proceedings of Silvio & Veronica will be providing gossip columnists and politicos with tittle tattle for years to come. Such an audacious break with tradition has not been seen since the very married Julius Caesar brought Cleopatra over for a shopping spree in downtown Rome (and look where that got him).
This is not France – a country where the mistress and the matron can share a funeral procession; or when one presides over the wedding of someone they will soon bed – publicly [although one has to hand it to Sarkozy, like Elizabeth Taylor, he prefers to marry his lovers].
In Italy, there are a few rules regarding the holy bond of matrimony:
1. Never air your dirty laundry in public. Never. Not even to your best friend. Found your husband in bed with another man? Just respond “Tutto bene, grazie.”
2. Make vows, getting married ‘under the eyes of God’, after all, no one else is looking when you flaunt those same vows with your endless affairs.
3. Everyone knows you’ll be having affairs, and people talk candidly about them, even showing up for public functions, amante in tow. Mussolini, Agnelli, Mastroianni…right down to your local bank clerk.
4. (Try) and stay married, despite these indiscretions, for the good of ‘La Famiglia’. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the order of the day.
So, what gives?
It’s not that the megalomaniac showman couldn’t keep it in his pants – after all, no one expected him to. It’s that he so audaciously chose to flaunt his affairs, his courtesans, his political promotion of hotties, his supposed virility so publicly.
But the Head of State being sued for divorce is simply unheard of. If anything, it’s the man who runs off during the throws of a serious midlife crisis (reference Pavarotti), leaving la mamma to tend to the nest. Obviously, living in a gilded cage now that the kids have moved is more stressful than we think.
But, one thing I know for sure: Thomas Friedman (NYTimes) often asserts that the greatest energy force in the whole wide world, stronger even than bonds of undying love, is a lack of dignity. Take away that, you unleash a hailstorm of fury – if you lose your dignity, you have nothing to lose.
And in this, with Silvio strutting his stuff, while popping Viagra 24/7, he has insulted the very dignity of the sales clerk-turned-Prime Minister’s Signora (for whom he divorced his first wife).
Obviously, Mr. Berlusconi does not know the old adage,
“Hell has no wrath as a woman scorned.”