Bolseno, 1 November, 2005
Having finished and signed off my latest novel, it is time once more to concentrate on the Italy book and make sure I get the right interviewees in Italy. Getting the interviews done always takes priority over archival research because you simply never know how long these people are going to be around. Archives, on the other hand, will be there forever. I’ve had little difficulty tracking down former Partisans, but finding a way to former Fascists is much trickier, and so I have called in some help. A friend of mine recently made a film about Opus Dei and he tipped me off about the fixer they used in Rome called James Walker. He’s English but has lived in Italy most of his working life and although he’s mainly a TV and film fixer told me he could help. Sure enough, he’s lined me up with Mussolini’s illegitimate daughter, Elena Curti, a former member of the Decima MAS, and a former Black Brigade member who was part of the Fascist Secretary General Alessandro Pavolini’s bodyguard, all of whom sound very promising. He has also given me a lead on a poor old lady who was raped by the Moroccans following the breakthrough at Cassino. Julia’s mother has also put us in touch with a former Italian general who, after the Axis surrender in North Africa, joined the Allies and worked behind enemy lines as a British agent. So we’re going to be busy.
I had already been in Italy and met Julia OK at Rome. We then headed north well out of Rome en route to Elena Curti. This morning, on our way north, we stopped at the British cemetery at Bolseno. Like all British and Commonwealth Cemeteries, it was beautiful and serene.
Elena was extremely elegant and still very striking. In the lobby downstairs and throughout her apartment are a number of large canvases that she has painted. After the war, she moved to Barcelona with her husband, where she studied art and became an acclaimed artist. Her paintings are disturbing: abstract but suggestive of pain and violence. After talking to her for a couple of hours I began to understand why. Her recall and memory for detail was extraordinary. Moreover, she talked both freely and frankly. Her childhood was one of abuse and trauma. Only at eighteen did she discover that Mussolini was her father, but there after she saw him fairly regularly and by the spring of 1944, was working for the new Fascist Republic and reporting to the Duce every fortnight, acting as his â€˜eyes and ears’ on the ground. It was impossible not to like or be charmed by her. Her husband is older and his mind is clearly failing, but she was touchingly tender with him. We paused for lunch – which she made for us herself – and then we continued talking, listening to her life story as the weather blackened outside. Suddenly a terrific storm was raging, peels of thunder cracking overhead, and the rain beating against the window shutters.
When we eventually left, it was dark. As we drove south back towards Rome, Julia and I talked about why someone ended up on one side or the other in Italy. She didn’t strike us as a bad or immoral person; she had worked for the Neo-Fascists because of her birth, because of her upbringing and because of who her father was. It was clear that as a young, very attractive woman, she had enjoyed the attention of handsome young officers, and had been somewhat seduced by her proximity to the centre of Neo-Fascist power; she confessed, for example, to having been a â€˜little in love’ with Pavolini. The day has given me much to think about.