Magazine article The Spectator

Is the Latin Lover Dead?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is the Latin Lover Dead?

Article excerpt


ITALIANS take in their stride most taunts from other Europeans about the Italian national character and its sometimes tragic, more often comic, consequences. But when the big German newspaper, Bild Zeitung, turned its guns this month on the sexual prowess of Italian men, it was a taunt too far. `Latin Lover Addio: German women say his seduction technique is "banal" and he is "hardly virile" ', crowed the German tabloid. The Italian response to this latest piece of impertinence by Italy's wartime ally was one of outrage. Journalists and psychiatrists leapt into action. How dare the Germans! Debate was declared.

I live in the Romagna, the land of the Latin Lover whose HQ is at Rimini, also famous for the millions of umbrellas on its tedious, flat, endless beach. It is true that as a man I am not often on the receiving end of the romantic attentions of the Latin Lover. Furthermore, I rarely go to Rimini if I can help it, preferring to remain inland in the Apennine mountains. But I am in an ideal situation to study the brute at first hand and to deliver a more balanced verdict on whether he has lost his touch than either the Germans or the Italians at this delicate moment of the crisis, with half of the summer still left to run.

Among the most famous Latin Lovers of this century, and one who, appropriately, came from the Romagna, was the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, who, unlike Hitler, was very keen on sex. The Mussolini technique was always the same and today would no doubt be regarded as rape: he would simply grab a woman he fancied and have sex with her there and then, clothed and preferably against a wall. Beds wasted far too much time. One women recalled how he squeezed her breasts as if he were squeezing the rubber hooter of a motor car. Nevertheless, Mussolini had a dramatic effect on women. Churchill's wife, for one, described his incredible eyes in a letter to her husband.

But it was really only after Mussolini was strung upside-down from the girders of a Milan petrol station with his last mistress, Clara Petacci, in 1945 that the Latin Lover achieved popular fame. This was due to the advent of the cheap package holiday and the arrival on the Adriatic coast each summer of millions of foreign women from countries such as Germany. It was also among the umbrellas of Rimini that Federico Fellini, himself a Romagnolo, set his films about the Latin Lover, I Vitelloni and Amarcord. The rest, as they say, is history.

Given this history, Italian pride required nothing less than a full-scale response to the German assault on the nation's virility. Already this year the German press had warned Germans that for every four umbrellas on the beaches of the Adriatic there was an unexploded Nato bomb from the air war against Serbia. That was bad enough. Now this. The Germans were involved in a sinister plot, said Italians, to undermine the tourist industry. For apart from the Latin Lover, what other attraction can a place like Rimini possibly have?

The regional newspaper, II Resto del Carlino, led the counter-attack against the Germans for what it called this `dirty war'. It urged male readers: `Come on now, boys, forza . . . The moment of rebellion has arrived. Against the arrogance of the mark, against the invasion of the Bundesbank, against the rebirth of the Reich, let us reestablish the leadership of the Italian male.'

The next day, the newspaper wheeled out its biggest gun: the Rimini-based Maurizio Zanfanti -'Zanza' for short, as in zanzara, the Italian for mosquito - the most famous living Latin Lover of all, who is now in retirement, he says, though I do not for a moment believe him. …

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