Justice has a lovely coat

Italians in central Italy, I have been thinking, look ever more tawdry, even dowdy in their fashion choices.

Is this because current, ‘youth’ fashion is tawdry? Trousers hanging off one’s arse; shirts with gormless, nonsensical English words on them – as I write I am looking at someone with ‘wool’ emblazoned on one side of his chest and ‘rich’ on the other; all set off with ridiculous gold or silver trainers.

Or is it that I have become aware of the tendency of Italians, with their reflexive herd instinct in matters superficial (as opposed to wars), to fall off the edge of the fashion cliff? The example par excellence of recent years is their collective capacity to wear more and more stupid sunglasses. Look at me, cara! I look like an ant. And it only cost me Euro200! No, look at me! I have one-piece wrap-around shades the width of a small road. No, no, look at me! I have the name of a company written in diamante down both sides of my head and it only cost me Euro300!

Or is it that after 20 years of on-again-off-again economic crisis and negligible productivity gains, Italians look more crappy because they are simply running out of money?

Despite the general modish malaise, there is in Citta di Castello (and doubtless in every other central Italian town of similar scale) one place where you will still see people dressed beautifully. It is the Tribunale, as I was reminded on a recent visit.

The local magistracy has moved to refurbished premises between Castello’s twin central squares. The improved setting only serves to point up the exquisite sartorial choices of the assembled lawyers and their magistrate peers: behold the delightfully tailored skirts; wonder at the aggressively fashionable yet sufficiently formal trousers; marvel at the cleverly-fitted, nipped-and-tucked jackets; the shoes, of course, go without saying.

It is all too easy to forget amid the sartorial ecstasy that one does not only go to a courtroom for a fashion show. Indeed I did not on this occasion. I was there for the latest round in our epic (just the eight years so far) case against James Fat Boy Stephens, his scrofulous geometra sidekick, and their Neapolitan builder friends, who at the end of the decade before this one left us with a roof that leaked in 12 places. A naïve person might think it a relatively straightforward case. As I said, a naïve person…

For those who have not had the pleasure, the experience of an Italian court is not unlike an Italian church service. People wander in and out at will, talking somewhat quietly and respectfully, but without – if truth be told – ever really quite believing in the institution.

On arrival on this occasion, it looked like standard fare. The magistrate dealing with whoever pushed themselves gently to the front of the queue. The magistrate wholly unable to remember details of specific cases — not surprising when hearings last about an hour and the gap between them is about a year. The lawyer of one of the counterparties failing to show up. Our lawyer regarding this as entirely reasonable – the other lawyer is, after all, ‘a colleague’. And lots and lots and lots of hanging around.

But it was not standard fare this time. Just when the presiding (honorary) magistrate was expected to say that she was accepting no further evidence and would now make a decision in the case, it was announced that Castello’s senior magistrate – the one who is togato (who’s got, at least rhetorically, the ‘toga’ of the career judge) – is personally taking over all cases dating from 2002 and earlier in order to clear them up. This has a strong whiff, in the contemporary political climate, of Berlusconi-goes-to-Naples-and-sorts-out-the-rubbish-in-five-minutes about it. And it’s a bit bizarre coming just when the sitting magistrate was (in theory) about to be forced to make up her mind anyway. But there is nothing we can do. We must go with the spettacolo, return in a couple of weeks and see what the beautifully-dressed ones have in store for us.

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