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Sex lives of the popesHeel to Toe Encounters in the South of Italyby Charles Lister288pp SeckerEleven years ago Charles Lister wrote Between Two Seas an account of a walk he made half a century ago along the Appian Way in southern Italy This new book recounts a more recent cycling trip but one that took in very similar territory from Italys heel state of Puglia to its Calabrian toe in Reggio But in a sense the geographical background is merely incidental to the authors larger lifelong journey towards the heart of Italian societyThe depth of his relationship with this subject means that while Lister gives us some of the national stereotypes - the suffocating bureacracy the corrupt police force and the casual indifference to authority shown by everybody else - he treads very lightly or simply laughs them offThe author was born in St Remo began his career in Rome speaks the language fluently and is thoroughly versed in the countrys modern and ancient history He is also extremely well read in the works of his English-speaking predecessors from the 18th-century Henry Swinburne to Norman Douglas and even Bill Bryson These qualifications should make him the ideal guide In fact Lister is mixed companyIronically the impressive scholarship raises a barrier more than it opens doors He is so thoroughly au fait with all things Italian that whatever his theme or location he can haul into view albeit in thumbnail form any number of mythic gods saints popes and other sundry historical figures without regard for chronology or connectionOne minute we are mutilating a 12th-century saint the next minute we are rumbling the sex secrets of a recent pope At times Lister seems rather like a gossip columnist rummaging through 3000 years of Italian celebrity or scandal and picking out the juicy parts The effect can be confusing the impact unsatisfyingAt the same time Lister can also be crotchety opinionated and wickedly funny Despite his three
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