Recasting of dictator hard to stomach

By Richard Owen

BENITO Mussolini, Italy's Fascist dictator, suffered from an ulcer yet could not resist "shovelfuls" of raw garlic, according to an account of his domestic habits by his daughter-in-law. Maria Scicolone said the accepted view that Mussolini survived on chicken broth and indigestion powders because of his delicate stomach was a myth. In fact, he "munched away on garlic", which he claimed was "the elixir of life" and "good for my heart".

Ms Scicolone, 66, the younger sister of the actor Sophia Loren, married Romano Mussolini, the dictator's youngest son and a noted jazz musician. They were separated in 1970 and divorced five years later, but Ms Scicolone - whose daughter Alessandra Mussolini is a Far-Right politician and women's rights campaigner - has remained close to the family. She recently published a memoir, My House Has Many Mirrors. In her new book, A Tavola con Il Duce (At Table with the Duce), she recalls spending "long hours in the kitchen" with Donna Rachele, Mussolini's widow, who died in 1979. Donna Rachele had described grand state dinners, including a banquet given by King Victor Emmanuel III for Hitler on the Nazi dictator's visit to Rome in May 1938. "Donna Rachele said Hitler, who was a vegetarian, found all the dishes unacceptable, while Mussolini, who was clearly bored to tears, complained that the menu was in French and kept muttering that Italian regional cooking was more appetising than 'all this pretentious and indigestible French stuff'."

Ms Scicolone said Mussolini was not much of a bon viveur. Domestic rituals were important to him, and despite his government duties and assignations with mistresses, he always had lunch and dinner with his wife and children, "like any Italian man". He never drank alcohol, and instead drank "litres of herbal teas and tisanes". He also drank copious amounts of milk until a German doctor finally told him in 1945, near the end, that it was making his ulcer worse. The Duce "ate lots of fruit, but hardly ever ate cheese, salami or sausages".

The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero said the revelations about Mussolini's "human side" were part of a gradual rehabilitation of the dictator, who almost 60 years after his gruesome death is increasingly seen by Italians as having been more benign and less totalitarian than Hitler or Stalin. Last month Romano Mussolini published an affectionate memoir, entitled Il Duce, My Father, in which he said the family had "many Jewish friends" and it was his father's sense of compassion and honour that enabled him to prevent a bloodbath when he was deposed. RAI, the state television channel, is making a TV drama about the marriage of the dictator's favourite daughter, Edda, to his Foreign Minister, Count Ciano.

This article originally appeared here on October 23, 2004 and was apparently a reprint from "The Times" of London

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