The Mouth from the South: Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of il Duce, is wooing Naples for the neo-Fascists. The rest of Italy is less enchanted. Her policies are unclear, but her oratory is absolutely fascinating

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ALESSANDRA MUSSOLINI escapes from the evening drizzle into an apartment in the old quarter of Naples. She has been out meeting the people - old men and women who pinch her cheeks and offer advice. Her blonde perm with its dark roots has grown bedraggled and wet, but never mind. Mussolini knows that schmoozing the voters is something that must be done.

Last Sunday, Mussolini's neo-Fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano won 30.7 per cent of the votes in the first ballot to elect a new mayor of Naples. After Rome, it was the second highest vote for the MSI in the country. Mussolini was beaten only by the candidate from the left-wing Partito Democratico di Sinistra, Antonio Bassolino. There will be a run-off between the two on 5 December, and although Mussolini probably won't win, her campaign has wrought a decisive change in the fortunes of the neo-Fascists who, for nearly 50 years, have been exiled to the fringes of Italian politics.

Until next Sunday, Mussolini will be out glad-handing every day. On this particular November evening, there were so many people gathered in the apartment that the glasses of Spumante and trays of pastries had to be passed overhead. And only if you looked above them would you notice that the walls of the sitting-room were covered with pictures of Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator and Alessandra's grandfather.

The apartment belongs to Pietro Lamalfa, an old man known in Naples as Pietro il Fascista. Tonight, Lamalfa is so proud of having il Duce's granddaughter make a speech in his home, that he insists, before she begins, that the photographers take pictures of them together. She has to detach herself from his grasp before she can begin the familiar diatribe against her opponents.

Mussolini speaks without notes. But it's not what she says that you remember. I have listened to her speeches over and over, and I have yet to hear her say anything original. She offers no concrete suggestions, and gives only the vaguest indication of what she will do in office. In fact, if you listen carefully, her speeches don't even make sense. But that doesn't stop the crowd from lapping her up. 'We want change,' she says. 'We've had enough. Basta. Basta]' I block out the sound, and concentrate on the one feature that seems to be the key to her appeal.

Mussolini is surprisingly slender for a woman who is widely seen as a Mediterranean sexpot. Her breasts are small, her feet are narrow, and her calves, far from being the trunks of the true bimbo, are rather delicate.

The one-time soft-porn actress, now a member of the Italian parliament, is 31. She wears no jewellery other than a wedding ring. She is married to a captain in the guardia di finanza, the fiscal police, and has no children. La Mussolini, as they call her in Naples, dresses in cashmere or the softest suede. And every day she wears brown crocodile pumps of the finest leather.

But that isn't what you remember most. Nor is it her popping eyes, shining like sweets. Nor even the right hand that dances like a marionette to the rhythm of her speeches. No. What lingers in your mind - long after you walk away from her - is her mouth. It is a large, pink, lipstick moue of a mouth, on which the mark of a pencil doesn't so much accentuate the curve of her lips as try and fence them in, to stop them spilling over and running clean away.

Anywhere she goes, men look at Alessandra Mussolini's mouth. 'Basta. Bas . . . ta,' she says, opening wide. When her mouth is still, men are watchful. When it moves, they become impaled, unable to turn away. Mussolini sucks air in deep, and men who have never voted Fascist in their lives stand up and applaud. 'The people have rights. I am here to fight for their rights. For your rights.' The men in the crowd - grown men with jobs and university degrees - are grinning wide. They clap and clap, and long after she's gone they still remember that her mouth was big and pink and full of promises.

Outside Naples, however, Italians are less enamoured of La Mussolini and the rise of the neo-Fascists. Mino Martinazzoli, the Christian Democrats' party secretary, calls her tactics 'boudoir democracy', adding sourly that 'the colour of one's knickers seeems to count more than intelligence in Naples'.

For the Christian Democrats there is much at stake. Last Sunday's municipal elections for 428 local administrations - by a quarter of the Italian electorate - virtually routed the parties at the centre of the political spectrum. The clear winners were Umberto Bossi's Lega Lombarda in the north of the country, and the MSI in the south. But the Christian Democrats' greatest fear is that the ballot was just a preview of the general election that is scheduled for next spring.

Long the pariah of Italian politics, the MSI has been turning the fact that it has never been involved in government into a positive advantage. 'We are the only ones who can truthfully say we are completely clean,' says Enzo Nespoli, the MSI chief in Campania and Mussolini's campaign manager.

Ordinarily in such elections, the Catholic Church would have backed the Christian Democrat candidate, Massimo Caprara. But Caprara was completely trounced by Mussolini and Bassolino last week, another sign that nothing, now, in Italy is ordinary. The election comes in the middle of the country's most violent political evisceration since the Second World War.

'I don't know how it will all end,' says the leading Naples notary, Sabatino Santangelo, shaking his head. Santangelo so despaired at the way the city was run that he too stood for mayor, as an independent. He was the most sensible of the candidates, but he was a poor speechmaker, and he failed to stir il popolino, the common man. Nobody listened to Santangelo's carefully thought-out ideas, and he lost.

In Naples, as elsewhere in Italy, ordinary people have been disoriented by the recent political revelations. Particularly because of all the corrupt politicians that have been exposed, none were as corrupt nor as plentiful as those who came from Naples. Pomicino, Gava, De Lorenzo, Di Donato: these are the senior politicians and government officials whose sins have most recently been exposed by the Italian magistrates. They are all Neapolitan. 'It is part of the illness of this city,' says Vincenzo Siniscalchi, one of the best-known criminal lawyers in the country. 'There is something very sick about Naples.'

Siniscalchi should know. He is Neapolitan, as is his family. It was he who defended Diego Maradona in his famous paternity suit, and now he is defending many of the Neapolitan politicians who find themselves under arrest.

Those arrests have concentrated the attention of the city, which is taking this election very seriously, despite a natural cynicism about its frequently changing leaders. In the piazze and over the long lunch-hour, people talk of little else. Naples has a weakness for the right, for Fascists and Royalists, and a history of swiftly embracing its new rulers. The Normans, the Hapsburgs, the Bonapartists: Naples welcomed them all. Then it turned on them and threw them out.

A series of recent electoral reforms means this is the first time the mayors of Italy's major cities are being elected directly by the people, rather than by a college of city councillors. While the political parties have been exposed as 'dustbins of corruption' (according to one Italian newspaper), individual candidates have come to take on an importance that is far greater than the parties they represent.

The choice of candidates on 5 December is stark. Antonio Bassolino is a former communist apparatchik who spent nearly 30 years working for the party. He is short on charisma and hardly a prepossessing speaker, but for all that, he is well organised. He has a broad range of support, including most of the left, the ultra- Catholic anti-Mafia group known as La Rete, and some of the Greens. He has been a party man for so long that he will deliver what remains of the left-wing party bloc votes. It is said, and sometimes as a compliment, that he knows how the system works - though as others point out, this is not necessarily something to boast of right now.

The immediate appeal of Alessandra Mussolini, on the other hand, is simple. She is ballsy and smart, and can be charming when she chooses. She is also offhand and can be spectacularly rude to those she considers unimportant to her campaign. But most important, as every Neapolitan will tell you, she is great looking. 'E una tettone, a busty dame,' they say, although technically that's not even true. 'And anyone who says that doesn't count here, doesn't know Naples,' one of my cousins told me. Most important is something I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it myself: a tangible, utterly physical way she has of reaching out to people that makes her - like her grandfather (and his old adversary Winston Churchill) - a fantastic communicator.

ALESSANDRA MUSSOLINI comes from a long line of mouths. If they spoke in English in Naples, they would call her the Mouth of the South. Her aunt, her mother's elder sister, is Sophia Loren, whose fabulous eyes and enormous mouth are what first got her out of the provincial backwater of Pozzuoli - now a Naples suburb. And Benito Mussolini, it is said, never stopped talking.

Certainly he had his speeches recorded and sold to the public in boxed sets. I remember my sister and I, as children, being forced to listen to them by an Italian neighbour who had only one arm. The other was a soft pink stump, the remains of a shooting accident. One entire side of those records was applause. 'Viva il Duce] Viva il Duce]' came the cry from the turntable. We sat, quiet as mice, while our neighbour recalled this earlier age, and saluted with his stump at the memory.

Many Neapolitans, young and old, are sentimental about Benito Mussolini. 'If he were but still with us,' Pietro Lamalfa told me the day after Alessandra spoke in his house. 'If only he had come south to Naples, instead of going north to Milan, it would never have ended like that.' He is referring to the day in April 1945 when Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were strung up by their heels above the crowd in a square in central Milan, but he avoids the details. Instead, he shows me his pictures of il Duce, strutting, saluting, inspecting his troops and roaring at the crowd.

The pictures were originally black-and-white, but have been tinted with colour, and their frames are hung with Christmas lights. They look so unreal I want to laugh. But for Neapolitans such as Lamalfa, Alessandra's connection with the wartime leader is an essential, if not the essential, part of her appeal. 'If she were called Alessandra Rossi,' says another man, a young taxi driver, 'it wouldn't be at all the same thing.'

Alessandra never fails to reinforce the link with the dictator who was shot and then hung 16 years before she was born. She is too clever to be caught out mouthing Fascist slogans but even so, if an anodyne opportunity for reinforcing the family link presents itself, she never passes it up. Recently she was stopped by an orderly while on a tour of the Cardarelli hospital in Naples. He bowed and kissed her hand, and said his name was Benito. 'Ah, that makes me pleased. I am very proud of my grandfather,' she said by way of reply. 'I sleep with a bust of him in my bedroom.'

For the alta borghesia of this southern Italian city, the combination of Loren's common beginnings and Mussolini's filthy end is too much. 'Quella Mussolini, she's so vulgar,' says the mother of a friend of mine. 'That hair. That lipstick. She's a pounds 2 tart. Who in Naples would vote for her? Nobody.' Turning to me while her mother goes to the kitchen, my friend explains: 'My mother lives in a very rarefied atmosphere. She thinks the elite, il top-top, account for 70 per cent of Naples because that's all she sees. And the remaining 30 per cent she thinks holds the same views as she does. She's understood nothing. She's in for a surprise.'

She's not the only one. My friend's mother notwithstanding, popular support for Mussolini is very strong. Before the poll, entire zones of the city were plastered with her posters and no one else's. Three Sundays ago, I went to mass and heard the priest come as close as he dared in telling the congregation how to vote.

'In life, there are two forms of waiting,' he said. 'Passive waiting, which is merely giving in to mediocrity and apathy, and active waiting . . .' With a tiny nod in the direction of Alessandra Mussolini, who sat near the front between her husband and her campaign manager, he went on. 'Active waiting starts with the idea that there will be a better tomorrow . . . .'

'I FEEL like I know her,' an old woman told me early one morning at a demonstration in the Quartieri Spagnoli. 'I've never met Alessandra, but I feel she's my friend, my daughter.' In Naples, men and women call her Ale. They take her by the shoulders, and ask, 'Ale, may I?' before kissing her on the cheek. They address her with 'tu' rather than 'lei'. It is the same intimacy they would use with God, the Pope or Luciano Pavarotti.

In turn, she gives them something that Antonio Bassolino never could in a million years. She makes them laugh. When a young nurse ran up to her during a recent hospital tour, and said, 'Oh, and you looked so beautiful on the telly,' la Mussolini burst out laughing, 'What? And now I look like shit?'

Amid the laughter, though, it is too easy to forget that the MSI, despite what it says, has no real plans for Naples. It is the only party, throughout the entire campaign, that never printed a detailed agenda nor gave any account of what it would do in the first 100 days of its administration. What Mussolini says in public is shallow and often inconsistent. She feeds the crowd with wit and promises. 'Vote me in, and I'll get rid of them all,' she says of the politically corrupt. 'I'll sling them out by the hair.' She never says how. Coming straight from the gut, it is wonderful stuff to hear. But attacks on other candidates - even withering asides on the evils of all those corrupt Neapolitan politicians - are no substitute for fresh ideas and clear plans for running this crowded and unhappy city.

Last Sunday's elimination round has narrowed the Neapolitans' options down to a grey (but not incompetent) party-worker on one hand and a firecracker on the other. But the crisis at the heart of the city means voters will be choosing between far more than two different styles of city management. Whether it plumps for Bassolino or for Mussolini will be the signal of whether Naples is looking ahead to hard work or easy theatre; whether after years of caprice and complaint, Neapolitans are prepared to knuckle down and sweat to solve their problems. In short, whoever is to use the key to the mayor's office in the Palazzo San Giacomo for the next four years will be the clearest sign yet of what Neapolitans feel they are today and, more important, what they feel they want to be in the future.

TODAY, the mayor of Naples is responsible for an area that extends more than 20 miles from the steel works at Bagnoli almost to the tomato fields at Villa Literno, across a landscape of rank streets and falling buildings swept with tresses of greying laundry. The worst of the buildings reek of urine, and those that collapse are left to become piles of rubble where the children play among the garbage. Every few years there is a cholera epidemic.

It isn't hard to find hell in Naples. If you drive from the centre of the city along the highway that goes north to Rome, and take a left towards the tomato fields, and then a right at a sign that says, 'Casa Claudio: German shepherds.' you'll find one of the worst urban ghettoes in Europe.

Nothing could be more different from the view across the Bay of Naples. There is no Vesuvius here, no villas on the Via Posillipo, no elegant profile of Capri against the sky. Under a road embankment near Villa Literno is Ghetto Numero Due, a jerry-built shanty town put up by illegal immigrants who come to Italy in search of wealth, and end up, if they are lucky, picking tomatoes. Their numbers have exploded over the past three years, and there is now a Ghetto Numero Uno and a Due and a Tre. In Ghetto II, more than a thousand men from Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Mali have constructed what amounts to their own work camp. They live in dormitories built of wooden packing cases. There are no women or children here.

All around the outside is a moat half-filled with garbage and lumps of human excrement. A dead television lies face-down, half-in, half-out of the water. Inside the dormitories, iron bedsteads are jammed up against each other, and when it rains the brown water from the moat sometimes seeps in under the door.

In the summer, the men gather for work at the main roundabout in Villa Literno, a small sweaty town where the Camorra still rules. At four in the morning, Neapolitan landowners send their North African foremen there to choose the strongest labourers. Before sundown each man must pick 500 kilos to make pounds 10. A similar apartheid also extends to the city's whores. White prostitutes advertise as magicians or masseuses in the local press. The Arab North Africans work the streets, though at least they get the lucrative city centre. Black Africans are forced out to the highways that run into the city through the suburbs. In skintight Spandex and no underwear, they expose themselves by the side of the road. And the only white men there are punters or pimps.

It's not all hell, though. The men in Ghetto II are dignified and humourous. They have built a packing-case mosque where they say their prayers, and gently they ask me not to take pictures.

There is hardly any crime here, and the men chip in to help one another. At the far end of the camp is a long hall with rows of benches and a television for showing videos. On the wall outside are some nails, with 14.00, 16.00, 18.00 or 20.00 written above them in Biro. A videotape box hangs on each nail as advertising, and the day I was there we saw Jack Nicholson in Jimmy Hoffa: Santo o Mafioso. 'It's all about Italy,' says Ndongo Traore, a writer who is now also a tomato picker. 'It is important for us to keep learning.' He looks at me slyly while I write 'Hoffa/Italy(?)' into my notebook. Too late, I realise he is pulling my leg.

Alessandra Mussolini doesn't care that Traore wants to learn. She has never been to Ghetto II, and she doesn't care what he thinks about anything, only that he is there; that he is an illegal immigrant and that her constituents worry about the jobs he might take away from them. Never mind that Italians, even out-of-work Neapolitans, don't want to pick tomatoes. African immigrants in southern Italy serve a dual purpose. They provide hard labour and easy scapegoats in a city that has too few solutions for its too-many problems.

In Naples, almost everything stinks, even the numbers. In 24 years, from 1961 to 1985, the metropolitan area quadrupled in size. One Italian in five, between 1981 and 1988, was born here. And today, 15 per cent of southerners - 3.2 million people - live in metropolitan Naples. It could be more, of course, for even the official figures are often guesses.

Neapolitans live in a density of 2,680 people per square kilometre. That doesn't sound much, until someone points out that it is five times the population density of Rome and 10 times that of Palermo. Most of them are youngsters; two out of five are under 18. Most of them are poor; they earn a little over two-thirds of the average national wage. Most of them are burdened; the average man, in addition to himself, supports 3.3 other people. Francesco Ceci, the sociologist from the University of Naples who supplied these figures, ended by saying scornfully: 'Go and see how the Neapolitans live, and where they live, and then we'll talk.'

To see how the poor play, I was sent to a beach called the Lido Milanese. By the time I got there, it was closed for the season, fenced off by metal gates with padlocks. But in winter, poor Neapolitans still go to the pinewood that abuts it. Some go there to picnic and others to shoot up or have sex with whores in the back of their cars. You can tell they're there, even when you can't see them, because the cars have newspaper hanging in the windows, and the woods are strewn with stained tissues and empty syringes.

People come here to forget that two out of three young Neapolitans are out of work, that nothing can be achieved without a bribe or, in polite circles, without a bribe and a personal introduction. To get a construction contract in Naples involves leaving an envelope on the right official's desk; if there isn't enough cash inside it, the official's secretary calls up to say: 'Ah signore, you forgot an envelope here on the desk this morning.' L'arte di arrangiarsi, getting fixed up, is something that exists all over Italy, but it was perfected in Naples.

Certainly, l'arrangiarsi is what fed the spiral of corruption that has threatened to bring the city to its knees.

The worst example of corruption is well known. After the earthquake in 1980, the central government paid pounds 20bn for the construction of new housing for victims of the earthquake - enough to dig more than two Channel tunnels. More than ten years later, half the money had been 'eaten', as the Italians call it, and most of the victims are still living in tents.

Just in the brief fortnight I was in Naples, the revelations continued like the tales of Scheherazade. Olivetti's chairman Carlo De Benedetti arrested; the Italian President, Oscar-Luigi Scalfaro, accused of taking regular monthly payments from the secret services while he had been minister of the interior from 1983-87. A former health minister, Francesco De Lorenzo (one of the corrupt Neapolitan politicians), accused of authorising the sale of 14 brand medicines in return for massive payments into his personal bank account. None of the medicines had passed health and safety standards in other European countries, and Italy was the only country to sell them.

The day I left, the health ministry's pharmaceuticals director, Duilio Poggiolini, known as His Healthiness, admitted to owning a collection of paintings that included Picassos, de Chiricos and Modiglianis. He also had more than 10 different bank accounts and a safe hidden behind a cupboard at home that contained eight gold ingots weighing a kilo each, 20 diamonds and a vast collection of gold and silver coins, including several hundred krugerrands. All this, he'd have us believe, was bought on his civil servant's salary.

Where things work well in Naples - and they do in odd areas like the Institute of Philosophical Studies and part of the city's garbage-collection unit - it is usually because of one dedicated individual, perhaps a dedicated professor or a keen administrator, who inspires those around him or her. It is fashionable, of course, to blame what doesn't work on the corrupt. And it is even more current to say that the corrupt are just a small group of aberrant individuals.

Vincenzo Siniscalchi, the lawyer who is defending so many of those under arrest, is one of the few who doesn't subscribe to this view. 'No. If we are really honest, we must admit that there was a subtle complicity between the politicians and the people. What people would say is this: 'OK, so this guy's taking money. But he's giving us jobs; he's redistributing it. So, yes, he's a thief. But we're doing well out of it, so he's an OK thief.'

'The same with the businessmen. They've come clean because they were under arrest. If they hadn't been arrested, they wouldn't have said anything. And why? Because they'd adapted to the system. It's a very Italian system; more than anything, it's a very southern system. Everyone was involved in some way, because it suited everyone to have it that way.'

If everyone is involved in the system, then where does the system begin and end? Where does it stop being 'the system' and become straight graft? And how do you clean it up? How do you make Neapolitan drivers stop at red lights? How do you stop them parking so thick on the pavements that pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the road? Why is it that, even in a country notorious for its tax evasion, middle-class Neapolitans pay only two-thirds of the taxes that other Italians pay?

And what do you do when you see the doctors - the doctors, for goodness sake - smoking in the neo-natal unit of one of the city's main hospitals? In an incubator, the day I was there, twin baby girls, less than a day old and weighing only three pounds each, lay fast asleep. The doctors peered into the incubators, holding their cigarettes behind their backs. They smiled gently, and so did Alessandra Mussolini, for she had studied paediatrics at university. When she turned to the doctors, though, it was not to demand that they stub

out their fags, but to sympathise with them for having such old-fashioned incubators. It was 'them' - the politicians - who were to blame, she said.

BY THE TIME I got to ask Mussolini about the doctors, I had been following her campaign trail for many days. She was juggling her days in Naples with parliamentary sittings in Rome and study periods for her final paediatrics exam.

The evening we met, she had already given three speeches and a couple of radio interviews; she'd held a meeting with the Neapolitan leaders of the Radical Party to sound out a potential alliance, handled another with the bosses of the small and medium-sized businesses association, and made two glad-handing tours of poor areas of the city during which she wrenched off the heel of one of her brown crocodile-skin shoes.

Everywhere she goes, her mother Maria goes too. During this campaign, they carry identical brown leather handbags (by Polo), but it is the mother who always gets to carry the cellphone. Today, however, her mother left early, and there was no one around who knew where to get that shoe fixed.

Alessandra ascribes her brash exterior, what Italians call romanaccio, to the fact that she grew up in a household of strong women, including her mother, sister and maternal grandmother. Her father, Romano, Benito's favourite son, is a jazz pianist who keeps well away from politics. He married Maria Scicolone in the late 1950s, but they soon separated, and were divorced in 1976. They had two daughters, of whom Alessandra is the elder. Elisabetta, her younger sister, is a lawyer.

As a child, Alessandra was more conscious of Sophia Loren being her aunt than of Benito being her grandfather. After leaving convent school, she thought she might like to be a film star. She'd already made several films, her first with her aunt when Alessandra was nine, so she did a screen test and began to appear on television. At the same time she began to read philosophy at Rome University, but soon switched to medicine. 'I wanted to study with doctors, not students,' she says.

When she was 18, a photographer from Geo magazine in Paris was despatched to take a series of sexy shots for her coming of age. The photographer was my aunt, Mirella Ricciardi, who recalls having to negotiate with the mother to photograph Alessandra topless. Her mother was shocked, she said, but prepared to compromise. They made a deal that allowed one bare breast.

In 1983, the centenary of Mussolini's birth, Alessandra posed for Playboy. Politics had yet to seriously enter her life, but the following year she was cast as a Jewish woman in an Italian film, The Assisi Underground. Not surprisingly, there was outrage that the grand-daughter of Hitler's chief ally was to play a Jewess. Her part was withdrawn and she was recast as a nun, though she did eventually play an Israeli soldier in another Italian film, The Road to Ein Harrod, in 1989.

It was while she was on location in Israel that she proposed over the telephone to Mauro Floriani, her husband. They had met when he rescued her from a wind-surfing accident on a Rome beach. 'I took the initiative,' she said later. 'With me, it's everything or nothing.' The wedding took place at Benito Mussolini's old villa near Predappio on 29 October 1989, the 67th anniversary of her grandfather's march on Rome. 'Let's say in my family that day has a special meaning,' she said.

I wanted to ask her about what she wanted to do for Naples. I'd heard the MSI had plans for improving housing and creating jobs, but no one could tell me any details. And I had heard MSI officials serve up an old idea of turning the old port of Naples into a special tax-free zone in an effort to boost employment in the city centre.

I HAD FOLLOWED her for nearly a fortnight, and had listened to her speak on 18 different occasions, turning the same speech around to please a different audience. Businessmen, housewives, tourism officials. You name it. They all got a hand-finished product, but it was all basically the same old stuff.

She was late for the interview, and while I waited I did an idle count on the back of an envelope. The story about the old lady in the Naples Bronx (San Giovanni a Tedduccio) who had to move her furniture every time her upstairs neighbour had a bath; that one came out four times. The joke about her opponent Antonio Bassolino having so much hair that she would pull him down the street by it; six times. The pun on the name of another candidate, Massimo Caprara, whom she called la Capra, the goat; eight times. She insisted that Italian jobs should be for Italian workers, but never mentioned the black immigrants who pick tomatoes for almost no pay because no one else will. The winner was the one about how clean the MSI is compared with all the other parties; 14 times.

But of the MSI's plans for their time in office, their timetable, their projections, even their promises, there was nothing. I wanted to know how she'd juggle being mayor and an MP. And how would she clean up the corruption in the city? But most of all I wanted to ask her what she felt about being a blackshirt under her baby-pink cashmere.

The previous evening, we'd been on the meet-the-voter spree in the old quarter of Naples that ended with Spumante and speeches in the house of Pietro il Fascista. Before that, she'd walked in the rain, from one side of the street to the other, never missing a chance to shake a hand or kiss a child. And every time she emerged from a shop, the small band of brothers outside would raise their arms and shout, 'Viva Mussolini.' Clap, clap, clap. 'Viva il Duce.' Clap, clap, clap. 'Viva Alessandra.' Clap, clap, clap. How did she feel, I wondered, at this nostalgia for dictatorship?

Then, she'd looked radiant. But 24 hours later, at the end of long day and with one heel broken, she looked less so.

'Of course, the most important thing we will do is create jobs and build more housing.'

The words that come out are boil-in-the-bag cliches: 'But that depends on how much money we will get from the central government. If they don't give us money, because all these others have stolen what was given to them, it will not be our fault. If we get no money, we won't be able to do much.'

I had heard the excuse that everything in Naples is someone else's fault at least a hundred times. 'Isn't it time,' I asked, 'that people also took responsibility for themselves? Doesn't it annoy you that you can't walk on the pavement? Don't you get angry when you see the doctors smoking in the hospitals?'

'Of course,' she says. 'The people must be disciplined. They must be controlled. They must be made to obey.'

'Controlled?' I raise an eyebrow.

'Yes. controlled.'

'That sounds like the slippery slope towards Fascism.'

Abruptly she gets up. 'I am sorry. I am tired now. My shoe is broken, and I must rest.' Mussolini summons her husband and heads towards the door, wobbling on her broken heel. She turns to him and smiles - 'Andiamo.' And the last I saw of the mouth was when she called for her chauffeur.-

(Photographs omitted)

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