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A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Essay: Weary Italians aren't in the mood to laugh anymore at Berlusconi's latest transgressions.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi jokes during a 2006 press conference. Recently, a female escort claims she was paid 1,000 euros by a friend of Berlusconi's to sleep with the prime minister. Berlusconi's response: "I am not a saint; you’ve all understood that.” (Max Rossi/Reuters)

ROME — For many Italians, the annual mid-August vacation exodus known as ferragosto could not have come soon enough. It has been a sweltering, stressful summer.

Flocking to the beaches, they leave behind the usual Italian cacophony of politics and intrigue, from warnings of creeping fascism to accusations by jailed mafia godfather, Toto Riina, that a high profile anti-mafia prosecutor was blown to bits in 1992 by agents of the state.

Italians have long grown accustomed to the din in a country deeply divided politically. Harder to shrug off is a recession that has them feeling more worried and depressed, according to a poll last month. They’re so preoccupied that 33 percent say they’re having sex less often.

That apparently isn’t the case with Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. For the past year, his alleged sexual exploits have been the stuff of widespread media coverage, café chatter and, most recently, tape-recorded pillow talk. The recordings were made by Patrizia D’Addario, an escort who says she was paid 1,000 euros by a friend of Berlusconi’s to sleep with the prime minister. The friend, Gianpaolo Tarantini, is being investigated on suspicion of corruption and abetting prostitution.

The recordings were posted last month on the website of the Italian magazine, L’espresso. One conversation is between Tarantini and D’Addario last October, before they head to Berlusconi’s official Roman residence, Palazzo Grazioli. Tarantini stresses the prime minister doesn’t use a condom. D’Addario protests but seems to relent.

She claims other taped conversations took place a month later after a night of sex with Berlusconi at his home. One exchange goes like this:

D’Addario: A young man would have come in a second … Do you know how long I haven’t had sex like I had with you tonight? Many months … Is it normal?

Man said to be Berlusconi: If I may say so, you have to have sex on your own … You have to touch yourself with a certain frequency.

Berlusconi has not denied that D’Addario attended a party at his home, but has insisted he has never in his life paid for sex. His only comment after the tapes were released was to tell an audience: “I am not a saint; you’ve all understood that.”

The recordings cap a series of sexually-tinged controversies, beginning with accusations he appointed women to political posts who were more experienced in seduction than politics.

In the spring, his wife, Victoria Lario, sent an email to a news agency suggesting her husband uses his political party as a harem. Days later she asked for a divorce — they’ve been married 19 years — when it emerged Berlusconi had attended the birthday party of an 18-year-old aspiring actress who calls him “daddy.”