Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, reiterated during a recent visit to Russia that the meaning of turquoise socks worn by one of his country’s judges may be the most important issue facing Italians this year.

Brushing aside complaints about a recent alleged sexist remark made to a female opposition leader and a perceived snub of Jordan’s King Abdullah, Berlusconi warned the phenomenon of judges wearing pastel-colored socks in public required special attention.

A camera crew working for a Berlusconi-owned television channel recently recorded street movements by Judge Raimondo Mesiano, showing him walking, smoking, and visiting a Rome barbershop.

The filming  of Mesiano’s movements came after the judge ordered Berlusconi’s holding company to pay 750 million euros to a rival media operator in a bribery case, and after Italy’s constitutional court stripped Berlusconi of immunity from prosecution in pending fraud and corruption cases.

At a news conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was visiting Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi repeated comments made by the narrator of the Canale 5 probe of the judge.

The judge is “strange,” walking on a street in turquoise socks, “seeming to be interested in a shave while smoking the umpteenth cigarette of the day,” the prime minister said as Putin stood by.  “He must be eccentric and can only relax in such silly socks near a barber shop.”

“I’m troubled that this is more than just a fashion trend,” Berlusconi went on.

“A judge could cause great damage, possibly even a breakdown in our fragile legal system by being a role model for colleagues who might want to wear such colorful clothing as an everyday thing,” he said.  “Italy’s judges, like all judges in advanced democracies, should be models of restraint; they should dress in blacks, whites, and grays.”

Putin, anxious to enjoy his October 7th birthday party with the Italian leader, seemed puzzled by Berlusconi’s comments about turquoise socks and judges.  Putin, 57, turned to a translator for help as Berlusconi went on about the judge’s smoking habits and choice of a barber.  The translator cautioned reporters there might not be a word for turquoise in Russian.

Still, Berlusconi, 73, seemed to be enjoying himself with Putin, despite criticism for canceling a meeting in Rome with King Abdullah in order to be in St. Petersburg.

Berlusconi also seemed unconcerned about a recent protest by 100,000 Italian women over what they charge was a public insult against a female opposition leader, made on live television.

On a recent late night talk show, Berlusconi appeared via phone link and told Rosy Bindi, 58, that she was “more beautiful than intelligent.”  To which Bindi, a bespectacled, matronly figure, responded:  “I am not a woman at your disposal.”

As he often has, Berlusconi said his remark to Bindi was a joke;  but many women insisted it was another example of how the prime minister offends them, whatever his stated intent.

“Someone tell Berlusconi he is no George Clooney, ” said Senator Patrizia Bugnano.

In St. Petersburg, Berlusconi insisted any offense against Bindi, or large numbers of Italian women, was outweighed by the implications of Judge Mesiano’s socks.

“Where’s the outrage about that”?  he asked.  “Our republic is threatened every day by such florid footwear.  That’s clear by what my camera crews saw!”

Meanwhile, Berlusconi critics took issue with his rationale for leaving King Abdullah in the lurch, on the grounds that, while there would be a big birthday party held for Putin, and possibly some hunting, the leaders would discuss Moscow’s plans to build more pipelines to Europe, and a possible Russian-Italian joint venture to pipe Russian gas under the Black Sea to central and southern Europe.

Rumors of drinking, partying, and lots of dancing girls dominated talk about the real purpose of the Berlusconi visit to Russia, with hints that Putin wished to pay Berlusconi back for his 2007 party to honor Putin, which was held at Berlusconi’s Sardinia island retreat.  That event featured a troupe of dancing girls from Rome, in a command performance of “Dance of the Veils”.

As he acknowledged that all of his special guests, including Putin,  revel in the Sardinian sun, often in light shorts or swim suits, Berlusconi demurred when asked if he would accept Putin’s invitation to ride shirtless and bareback while hunting in the St. Petersburg suburbs.  “You will understand: it’s a bit cool here for me,” he said.

“This is all very strange,” Emma Bonino, a former EU commissioner and senator for Italy’s Radical Party said.  “The idea that they are going to hunt deer and talk about gas for three days seems hardly probable.”

As for King Abdullah, he seemed nonplussed about the whole matter, including the perceived slight.

“His highness understands the prime minister of Italy is a busy, busy man, with many heavy responsibilities in the region.  Perhaps his highness could also visit Sardinia some day.  His highness looks forward to a special sunny afternoon and dusk in the near future, where he can sit on a lawn chair overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and enjoy Mr. Berlusconi’s unique hospitality.  For now though, we wish the prime minister well, but hasten to add:  no one wears turquoise socks in Jordan” -  said a statement issued on behalf of the king.

Berlusconi’s insistence on the import of the socks issue is generating a response among members of Italy’s judiciary.  There is talk of a “turquoise socks protest,” and deep concern about what one Democratic Party senator called a “horrible television movie.”

“The worst thing -  which gives you the shivers – is the shadowing, the spying, the violation of privacy, the public pillorying, with the implied warning:  look, we’re watching you,” wrote Michele Brambilla recently in La Stampa.  It’s something “we’ve seen only in the movies,” Brambilla said.

Berlusconi, insisting he is the most criticized and put-upon leader in modern Italian history, dismissed all comments about his trip to Russia; alleged serial insults to women, including his wife; the alleged snub to the Jordanian monarch; and his comments about Judge Mesiano as more leftist propaganda.

“I say think socks!  Socks!  Socks!”  Belusconi said.  “The left doesn’t want you to think about this judge’s funny blue socks, and what they represent, because they all wear sandals!  Don’t be fooled!  The left never wear socks!!!”


  1. Jim White says:

    At the St. Petersberg close to me, turquoise socks can be seen in abundance at the beach for a couple of days either side of New Years Day when the Big Ten schools come to town for their bowl games in Tampa and Orlando. Maybe Berlusconi could send a film crew. There might even be a few other sights to his liking…

  2. cocktailhag says:

    As an Oregonian who frequents such leftist redoubts as Peace rallies and the Farmer’s Market, I can assure Berlusconi that the left in fact wear socks… with their Birkenstocks. I can also assure him that he is no George Clooney, as though that were necessary. Great post, Dirigo, although I dread the next expense report….

    • dirigo says:

      Well, Harlan Harrington, CHNN’s crack foreign correspondent, did tell the desk getting the CHNN flying boat to St. Petersburg was a diplomatic and logistical challenge.

      There were some air clearance issues with Bulgaria; and, at one point, Harlan had to haul the plane over some roads and across some open farm land to get to a border area with a nearby pond to refloat and get aloft once more.

      We’re still waiting for him to vector over Naples air space to land near the CHNN dock.

      There might be a steep tab to come to terms with once all the invoices are in, along with some unusual catering bills.

      However, in the end, you know this kind of journalism doesn’t come cheap.

      Nowhere else but CHNN!

      • cocktailhag says:

        We report, you let slide. Nattering nabobs of negatism, and proud of it.

        • dirigo says:

          Harlan did say Berlusconi was surprised to see the microphone with the bright red CHNN logo on it, parked in front of him at the St. Petersburg news conference.

          Harlan says he heard Berlusconi muttering that he didn’t think this “puny” American news outfit had such reach; and he may have had a sotto voce chat about all this with a Canale 5 producer, a burly guy named Bruno.

          Putin was very curious about the logo. And the flying boat.

      • Nessun’ dorma, at least not at CHNN’s foreign bureau, but the Hag-in-Chief is right wonder about the cost-accounting implications. What, for example, does a replacement crankshaft for a nine-cylinder radial built originally in 1932 cost in St. Petersburg?

        Does anyone remember Karinhall, Goering’s hunting lodge? A long time ago, about the time when the CHNN flying boat was originally built, newspapers all over the world were publishing endless pictures of his enormousness in Lederhosen and a Tyrolean hat, embracing foreign dignitaries under an entire herd of mounted stag heads in the Great Hall. I wonder if Signore Berlusconi’s pied-à-terre is anything like as grand as that. Somehow, I doubt it.

        • dirigo says:

          Harlan was mindful of certain contingencies while negotiating with Bulgarian officials, including such things as a replacement crankshaft, bottled water, and spare goggles.

          He did get an estimate on a crankshaft from a contact in St. Petersburg (they said they could fly one in from Cracow). Thankfully, there was no need to place the order, so, you really don’t want to know what kind of a hole that would have put in the budget.

          • cocktailhag says:

            All those expenses sound legitimate, except the bottled water. Non-alcoholic beverages must be submitted with the utmost scrutiny.

          • dirigo says:

            The Bulgarians offered some complimentary wine for the final leg to St. Petersburg; but Harlan says it was worse than Thunderbird; so he left it in a stand of trees at the border before re-floating the ship.

        • The Heel says:

          yes, Benito Berlusconi is a soul mate of Goering and other modern times feudal leaders that see democracy as nothing but a means to reach power and a nuisance after that. The Nazis came up with a stronger flavor of a “patriot act” (Ermaechtigungsgesetz) and did away with such time wasting traditions as voting. Hence Germans didn’t get to re-elect Hitler. That also had a soothing effect on the media.
          I bet Berlusconi envies and admires hedonistic Herman for his life style. The end wasn’t all that pleasant and Goering had a paratrooper company in his garden at Karinhall protecting him from the Gestapo – as his relation to Hitler began showing serious cracks….

          Gotta love Berlusconi, though. he is real life satire and a constant source of amusement.

          Viva Italia!

  3. skeptic says:

    Very entertaining… the post and the comments.

    • dirigo says:

      Thanks, skeptic.

      Seems to me the more absurd it is, the more truthful it is.

      “The real voyage of discovery counts not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

      – Marcel Proust

  4. skeptic says:

    Seems to me the more absurd it is, the more truthful it is.

    I can’t argue with that.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Ah, how far we’ve come… absurdity = truth. Too bad such a circumstance is seldom funny.

      • The Greeks wrote comedies as well as tragedies — I suspect for this very reason. The phalloi worn by members of the chorus once set the tone for a lot of what makes life bearable for anyone with an IQ above room temperature.

        For reasons which I thought at the time were a bit capricious, if ultimately defensible, I referred on a recent OpenLeft thread to the likely contempt that the people Digby is pleased to call the Masters of the Universe would feel toward Keats, if they should ever deign to read him. Someone asked me what poem, if any in particular, I thought might be particularly relevant. Ode on a Grecian Urn, I said. It may sound to modern ears like a highly-stylized and self-conscious piece of romantic puffery, but I think that it stands for far more, especially when listened to in our jaded age.

        Shelley’s Ozymandias calls into question the hubris of the mighty. In contrast, Keats asks us to contemplate things of genuine worth, things actually worth preserving, which aren’t there any more. Especially in our age, this should give us pause. Mortality is something we all have to live with. What Dick Cheney might call enhanced mortality is something else altogether. Simply put, it’s an abomination which no one could participate in if they were capable of contemplating a 2500 year old red-figured vase, as Keats did, and understand what it was that he was looking at.

        • Steven Rockford says:

          Hey Bill,

          “The phalloi worn by members of the chorus once set the tone for a lot of what makes life bearable for anyone with an IQ above room temperature.”

          What is this supposed to mean? I have an IQ above room temperature, and I have spent some time reading Greek literature, but I cannot understand what you mean by this.

          Perhaps I need another martini (it may put us on an equal plane).

          • You have to see the plays performed, I guess, especially when directed by someone as bawdy as the Greeks who wrote them. I once saw a production of The Acharnians in which the chorus, when advocating for the superiority of Aristophanes as a playwright, appeared covered with scraggly fur, and sporting giant, curved yellow rubber phalluses, and capered around the stage while reciting their lines in a near-perfect pantomime of things you might see in the monkey house at the zoo, including grooming, simulated fornication, stealing fruit and fighting over it, etc.

            Not in the text, of course, and Aristophanes didn’t leave behind any stage directions to speak of, but it seemed very much in the spirit of things to me.

            It was that bawdy angle I was referring to. When inundated as we are these days with the 24/7/365 purveyors of newspeak, those limited in experience, if not in intelligence, soothe themselves with irony. The Greeks, to use a phrase coined by Céline, pissed on them all from a considerable height, and in doing so, celebrated something about human independence which we forget at our peril.

          • And which, I should add, explains my affection for the Hag and all her works.

      • Skeptic says:

        Funny? Almost never.

        • You don’t find Glenn Beck or Michele Bachmann funny? Well, I can understand that gallows humor isn’t to everyone’s taste, but if you take the two of them as Signs of the Apocalypse, it seems to me that you also have to admit the truth of Marx’s crack about history repeating itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

          (If it’s any consolation, I keep a suitcase, a passport, and a loaded gun handy, just in case the last act turns out to be a tragedy after all.)

          • Skeptic says:

            Oh, no! I do like gallows humor!

            I was just responding to the Hag’s comment further up the chain:

            Ah, how far we’ve come… absurdity = truth. Too bad such a circumstance is seldom funny.

            It’s true that such circumstances often are not funny. At least, to those affected by them.

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