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We talk abut election in Amalfi Coast, Positano , Ravello fo Salerno. Vittorio Sgarbi, a man in the public eye who courts controversy, has taken up the case of Salemi, a Sicilian town destroyed in an earthquake. He’s offering homes for barely more than a dollar. By Sebastian Rotella April 17, 2009 Reporting from Salemi, Italy — In 1968, an earthquake devastated this ancient hilltop town crowned by a castle, littering the place with thousands of abandoned homes and submerging it in a slumber that lasted decades. Until another force of nature hit Salemi. Photos: Sicilian mayor Vittorio… Map His name is Vittorio Sgarbi: art historian, political brawler, television madman, media hog. After this bon vivant from the prosperous north swooped into the heart of Sicily and got elected mayor last year, Salemi awoke. Spewing ideas, announcements, jokes, profanities and insults like a flamethrower, Sgarbi has hurled himself into the task of putting his municipality of 11,800 on the map. He has drawn a torrent of international interest by offering to sell empty homes for a euro ($1.35) apiece. (Word is that rock star Peter Gabriel will be one of the first buyers.) He has filled his Cabinet with dolce vita pals with titles like “advisor for Nothing,” “advisor for Culture and Agriculture” and “advisor for Hands in Pasta” (a phrase that means “having a finger in every pie”). He has promised to create a cultural mecca, proposing a film festival and a museum of the Mafia. He has even tilted at metal windmills that mar the pastoral landscape. “We have showed that it’s useful to have a Mayor Sgarbi,” he said. “I hate to waste time. Life is too short. I have no time to lose.” On a recent Saturday, the mayor made one of his periodic parachute visits from Rome, where he keeps a palatial apartment crammed with art treasures. (He has also lived in Milan and served as mayor of a town in northern Italy.) Frenzy ensued. A crowd turned out for the arrival of a shipping container carrying 55,000 DVDs and videos donated by a Korean American merchant in New York. “We convinced him that Salemi was the new New York,” Sgarbi declared as cheering youths formed a chain to transport the DVDs into a cultural center. As the mayor charged around town, an entourage accompanied him like pilot fish: advisors, politicos, a poetry-spouting Sicilian film critic and the police chief, who looked like an admiral in his uniform cap and blue coat. Reporters hurried alongside asking about a recent casualty of his administration: The deputy mayor, an old-school politician pushing 70, resigned after deciding he had had enough. “Hey, if he wants to leave, that’s fine,” said Sgarbi, a 56-year-old with longish graying hair and a habit of pushing his glasses up onto his head to peer at the flip-up screen of his cellphone. “It’s not like he’s — wait, who’s that showgirl I like — Belen Rodriguez” — an attractive television personality — “or something. He was too slow. He couldn’t keep up.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sgarbi ran for mayor on a whim. He had known Salemi because of its historic significance: The coexistence of Christians, Jews and Muslims is preserved in architecture dating from medieval times. After talking to local politicians who agreed that his celebrity would inject energy into a neglected community, he bested half a dozen hometown candidates and led a centrist coalition to victory in the runoff. Sgarbi’s career has been defined by craziness and conflict. He has bounced around in the pinball machine of Italian politics, from left to right to somewhere in between. In the 1990s, he became a fixture on political talk shows on television. He snarled, ranted and threw the occasional punch, sparking anger, admiration and lawsuits. His emergence accompanied the ascent of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as that billionaire media tycoon unleashed a center-right revolution in Italian politics. A 2006 book about the prime minister titled “The Sack of Rome” says Sgarbi acted as a media “Doberman” on a network owned by Berlusconi. “He often literally shouted, the veins in his neck bulging as if about to burst, inveighing against Berlusconi’s enemies,” writes the author, Alexander Stille. He says Sgarbi has a “wild, disorderly and extravagant personal life that requires an extremely generous cash flow to maintain.” Sgarbi does not necessarily deny that. In an interview with a Sicilian magazine, he recounted affairs that produced three out-of-wedlock children and two child-support lawsuits. With his casual propensity to shock, he told the magazine that he has not married because he would be unfaithful and that his adult son “doesn’t take drugs and isn’t a [homosexual], and that’s enough for me.” On the political level, Sgarbi has had ups and downs with the ruling party, as he explained while munching a sandwich on the rooftop of his official residence. The spot overlooks green hills and a city hall where national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi gave a historic speech in 1860 declaring his campaign to unify Italy. Quarrels with the center-right mayor of Milan led to Sgarbi’s firing as that city’s director of culture in May. Hoping to become deputy minister of culture in the Italian government, a post he had held before, he lobbied kingmaker Umberto Bossi, the equally pugnacious leader of the rightist Northern League party. “So I spent four hours at a soccer game with Bossi, you can imagine what a [pain] that was,” Sgarbi said. “Finally he got on the phone with Berlusconi” — he mimicked Bossi’s rasp — “and said, ‘Sgarbi must be with us!’ But it didn’t happen. I ended up without Milan and without the government. I registered my candidacy for Salemi the day before the deadline.” The town, founded by Arabs in the 9th century, derives its name from the Arabic salaam, or peace. In a region with a strong Mafia presence, Salemi is notorious as the fief of the Salvo political clan. In 1987, the Salvos allegedly hosted a clandestine summit during which an Italian prime minister exchanged the ritualistic “kiss of honor” with the murderous chief of the Mafia. Sgarbi’s friendly invasion is comparable to a bunch of celebrities from New York taking over a town in South Texas. His advisor for Human Rights, Creativity and Communication is photographer Oliviero Toscani, the creator of edgy Benetton ad campaigns featuring American death row inmates and AIDS victims. Fulvio Pierangelini, a top Tuscan chef, serves as the advisor for Hands in Pasta. Graziano Cecchini, a swashbuckling figure known for a guerrilla “art” assault in which he dumped red dye into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, took the Nothing portfolio. Single Page | 1 | 2 | Next »

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