Mamma, what are you doing to papa?

A porn star faces some difficult questions. But Cicciolina can handle it.
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The Independent Culture
IN HER kitsch apartment, complete with white baby grand, phallic fountain and menagerie of pink and white stuffed toys, Ilona Staller is doing her mother thing. School is out and her six-year-old son, Ludwig, blonde, blue-eyed and robust, wants to "do ceramics".

Staller laughs indulgently and tells him she'll get the Play-doh in a moment. "I can't tell you what a relief it is to know that Ludwig will be with me at least until his 18th birthday," she goes on. "My ex-husband's campaign to depict me as an unfit mother, because of my porno past, has failed. These judges realised that I am not only fit but a very good, loving mother."

The woman whose platinum locks, peace and love philosophy and uninhibited sexual extravaganzas made her one of the country's favourite porn stars, has every reason to celebrate.

A ruling this week by the Corte di Cassazione, Italy's Supreme Court, threw out a request by Staller's ex, trash pop sculptor Jeff Koons, for custody of the son born during their brief marriage, and ordered stricter enforcement of his maintenance payments. It should end a rancourous battle that has involved transatlantic kidnapping by both parents, venomous attacks in the media, high-flying lawyers and a heated debate in Italy about why mamma knows best.

In a ruling that shocked the country, a Rome court in March 1998 awarded custody to Koons, who lives in New York, on the basis that he was the "better" parent. The decision leaned heavily on a psychiatrist's report which said Ludwig was unsettled and linguistically confused, having had a run of Hungarian babysitters who spoke neither Italian nor English. It concluded that Ludwig had "a symbiotic regressive relationship with his mother", which meant she allowed him to do whatever he wanted. Ludwig was due to be dispatched to his father in August 1998 but the order was suspended pending an appeal.

While ecstatic about this week's victory, Staller says the emotional cost of having to prove to the courts and the world that she was a worthy Mum has been high. "What hurt me most were the witnesses called by Koons who said things that were hurtful and often plain lies. I was mortified and I'd come out of court feeling sick and crying."

What sort of things, precisely?

"I couldn't begin to tell you. They were monstrous. To give you an idea, they found a photo I had taken of baby Ludwig in the nude, like so many parents, and implied there was something odd about that."

The porn queen who was elected to parliament with the Radical Party in 1992 says the legal battle has also cleaned her out financially. To help meet an estimated pounds 1.18m in legal fees, the Hungarian-born model does what she knows best: perform. But gone are the erotic exploits with snakes or the golden showers on front row spectators. La Cicciolina broke definitively with hard porn in 1990. "I still do occasional `spettacoli' at discotheques, but it is just fun, not hard in the sexual sense. I also appear on lots of television programmes and they pay me.

To keep herself and her little boy, Staller is writing an autobiography, with the snappy title Ilona Staller Cicciolina for you alla fine di un millenio. No one has signed up yet, but she says publishers in France and Hungary are interested. "It will cover my initiation into hard-core porn, my relationships with various MPs and political leaders, like Bettino Craxi, my marriage, including the intimate side, everything, why not?"

Staller has never renounced or regretted her years in the porn industry, and the court victory has quashed moralistic notions that porno actresses aren't mother material. But just as that hurdle is cleared, she finds herself facing some tricky questioning on the home front.

"The other day Ludwig had been out somewhere, a friend's house maybe, and had seen a poster of me and Koons. He asked me very seriously `Why did you do those things with Papa?'"

"It's difficult," she says with an embarrassed giggle. "The photo shows me giving oral sex to Koons."

So how did she explain it?

"I told him we were married then and that those are the special things mothers and fathers do together. Last month, he asked me what a porno star was. I am going to have to explain a lot of things to him soon, but delicately, so as not to hurt or confuse him, and so that he doesn't judge me in a negative light."