Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two cultures

I thought I knew every euphemism for shacking up, including "shacking up." For instance, "playing house," "bumping uglies," and the mysterious British "how's your father." "Walking the Appalachian Trail" is a new one for me. Apparently Mark Sanford found a stimulus package in Argentina for whom he is prepared to give up his wife, his four sons, his prestigious job as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and his hopes of being the presidential nominee of his tottering party. For now, he is still governor of South Carolina. I read the written statement of self-justification and indignation distributed by Mrs. Sanford, and I'm getting an inkling of why he fled. Two days ago she was lying for him, now she's quoting Scripture at us. I'm surprised she hasn't (yet) blamed The Gays for weakening the institution of marriage by participating in it.

America is riveted, as always, by the latest outbreak of hypocrisy from the family-values party. The governor's rambling press conference, together with published e-mails to his beloved, fall somewhere between the queasy-making phone conversations of Prince Charles and Mrs. Parker Bowles, and the blubbing public confessional of Jimmy Swaggart caught with a hooker. In other words, we've been here before and we'll be here again, in the creepy twilight world where fundamentalism meets fucking.

Meanwhile, across the sea, Italy is having a political sex scandal that makes this look like a high school crush. Silvio Berlusconi, the 72-year-old prime minister (and grandfather), is cavorting with a eighteen-year-old model, throwing nude parties at his villa, and stoutly denying that he hires pros because "it interferes with the pleasure of conquest." I doubt that any romantic, badly spelled e-mails will surface; what's love got to do with it? Every paper not owned by Berlusconi blazes with headlines, and the response of most Italians seems to be, "And? What time is the football on? Where should we eat?" How I wish I lived in an older, subtler culture. Not the medieval madness gripping Iran, but the world enjoyed by the heirs of the Roman Empire. Che dolce vita!

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