Seven Italian Postcards
Card 3: Plaza of Death

After dinner, at my request, my girlfriend led me to Piazzale Loreto, the same square in central Milan in which the body of Benito Mussolini hung on display following his death at the hands of Italian partisans in the final days of World War Two.

Aside from one old building, nothing remains at the square dating from the mayhem and exhaustion of that climactic April of 1945-indeed, we could not even accurately locate the former site of the petrol station from whose stanchions Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci had dangled upside down like butchered swine. The modern piazzale is a whirl of traffic encircled by abstract highrises labeled Upim, Daewoo, Banco Ambrosiano, and, to my weary surprise, even McDonald's, but there, somewhere, under contemporary peace and cheeseburgers Auden's "unmentionable odour of death" still lashed offense against a cool October evening. War and retribution seemed suddenly nearer.

They ran him to ground north near the Alpine frontier, with his lady beside him, she as innocent as he was guilty, but both were soon equally dead, just as cold, just as lost to their purpose as millions of other corpses decorating Europe that bloody season. Once shot and killed, their bodies were hauled back to Milano and hoisted to show the world the best reward for tyranny.

I can't reach back through time, but while strolling around the piazzalle and holding the warm soft hand of an Italian woman I wondered whether Claretta and Benito had loved as we love, or ever knew happiness and calm prior to the maelstrom he helped create and they died by. If they did it didn't last, unlike nearby Stazione Centrale, the massive Fascist-era rockpile from which shabby trains still depart precisely on time, perhaps the only useful legacy from the days of il Duce. What else can he give us?

Card 4: Whistles in the Night

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