Gabriele D’Annunzio was a poet, playwright, journalist and political activist who died in 1938. He flew with Orville Wright and was a fighter pilot in World War 1. He had a major influence on the ideology of Benito Mussolini, (a biographer described him as the ‘John the Baptist of Fascism’) although he never himself took part in fascist party politics. That was probably not his choice. In 1922, shortly before the March on Rome, which brought Mussolini to power, D’Annunzio was defenestrated by an unknown assailant. Badly injured, he retreated from active public life to his home at Gardone Riviera. Supposedly Il Duce paid regular bribes to D’Annunzio to ensure that he not re-enter the political arena, so great was his popularity and influence. D’Annunzio had many many mistresses, including the famous actress Eleonora Duse, whose bust he kept on his desk (shrouded in a veil so not to be distracted by her beauty). He was a leader of the Decadent Movement in literature. Rumour has it that he had several of his ribs removed so that he could perform fellatio on himself. Tragically, this seems to be an urban myth.
I visited D’Annunzio’s home last week at the Vittoriale degli Italiani (The shrine of Italian victories). The estate includes D’Annunzio’s residence, an amphitheatre, a ship set into the side of a hill, and a huge mausoleum. The house is super knick-knacky and kitsch (mind you with a higher class of kitsch that I am accustomed to myself).