According to an article in today’s Independent, Maria Vittoria Brambilla, the Italian minister for tourism (seen here discussing policy with her employer), has announced that the Palio di Siena, the traditional horse races that occupy the city’s main square for much of the summer, should be banned, along with all other public spectacles involving cruelty to animals. Not because of their intrinsic violence towards dumb beasts, with whom Brambilla ought to feel, at the very least, a nuance of sympathy, nor because they provide a substantial source of revenue for the Mafia, but because they damage Italy’s image abroad.

In the same newspaper, Christina Patterson has this to say about David Cameron and his putative political encounter with Silvio Berlusconi this week:

How do you solve a problem like Berlusconi?

David Cameron has clearly been having a lovely time visiting his foreign counterparts, offering a little lecture here, a little pat on the back there and generally revelling in being one of the Most Important People in the World. If some of them can’t quite match his background, well, one wouldn’t want to make them feel awkward, and some of them – Obama, actually – have other qualities that make up for it.

But Berlusconi. Oh dear, Berlusconi. How the hell do you conduct a meeting with the biggest joke in international politics, a man so surgically enhanced that he now looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy? How do you talk to a man who can’t even have a snack without a bevy of luscious lovelies? How do you do that and retain a micro-molecule of dignity?

Cameron’s solution to a challenge that might defy Debrett’s lacked his usual lightness of touch. He turned up late. Almost an hour late. He skipped the planned talks and went straight to the dinner, and skipped a press conference, too. In the photos, Cameron weirdly managed to look like Berlusconi’s taller, plastic twin. He also managed to look something he’s rarely looked before: deeply, excruciatingly embarrassed.

Maybe someone should take Ms Brambilla to one side and explain that the odd dead horse – however lamentable – does far less damage to Italy’s international ‘image’ than the raddled old nag to whom she owes her brilliant, and probably bareback, career.
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