The motorcycle looks somewhat dated but is indisputably an angel.
Like an electric chair before the current goes on.
Like an electric chair before the switch is thrown.
You’ve eaten your last meal, the priest has left the room.
The motorcycle between your legs is an angel
Revving its desmodromic basso profondo into a scream.
It’s Massimo Tamburini’s great 1994 Ducati 916 design, the Nine Sixteen!
Massimo’s soul in metal, slender as a child,
Glory whose maybe slightly dated beauty sings eternal.
Claudio Castiglione, who owned Cagiva, which owned Ducati, was the Medici
Who underwrote the considerable development cost of this piece of sculpture.
Time, space,
Neither life nor death is the answer.
And of man seeking good,
Doing evil,
Here was an exception.

Speed is the demon. Speed is not!
Speed is the big white breast
That arouses Italian men enough to get them finally to leave the nest –
Finally! – though they still love mommy’s breast the best.
Up the autostrada we sped,
Claudio behind the wheel,
Chatting when Claudio wasn’t taking and making many Massimo calls
On the car’s speaker phone – a toy at the time only James Bond had.
On our way to his house on the Italian Riviera,
In a dove-gray, conservative businessman’s
Stealth four-door Alfa Romeo sedan
(Claudio also owned a Ferrari P-2),
I glanced over at the speedometer but didn’t want to stare,
And saw we were casually going 240 kilometers an hour,
And wide-eyed,
Felt a swoon of pride.

Italy is despicable and ridiculous
And bad and sad
And full of as many flavors of cancer as Leopardi said.
It once was great.
It has cancer of the state.
Is there anything one can accomplish before it is too late?
At Rodrigo in Bologna one can eat bottarga.
One can take a taxi out to the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale
And say hello to Paolo Ciabatti.
One can reread Montale and remember Aldo Moro.
The tentacles of the octopus ripple like boiling ribbons of pasta
And the suckers attach to buildings and the buildings goose-step
Underwater up and down the Arno.
The semi-tropical trees on Bellosguardo recite their satanic vows.
The cities are for sale.
Men, seeking good, doing evil, buy them.

Audi, part of the Volkswagen Group,
Through its Italian subsidiary Lamborghini
Has bought tiny, mighty Ducati!
The CEO of Ducati is Claudio Domenicali, brains and huge ears,
Who ran Ducati Corse (the racing department) during the fecund years.
Volkswagen’s Chairman, the engineer and business magnate Ferdinand Piëch,
The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche,
Has always been a vehement Viennese Ducati enthusiast,
Though these days Ducati Corse keeps losing in MotoGP,
The summit of motorcycle racing and publicity, motorcycling’s Formula 1.
Domenicali has to fix that or that will be that.
It costs almost as much as the war in Iraq
For a factory team to compete. And then, on top of that, to lose!
Circuit after circuit falls to the Sunni extremists, Honda and Yamaha,
As they rave their way south toward Baghdad,
Beheading Shia for the sheer bliss of it.

Castiglione and Tamburini have died,
And without them Italy is stupid –
First one and then the other,
Both of course of cancer.
It appears Europe will fail,
The euro and immigration.
Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel,
Is the only man among them.
Nothing is more beautiful than her political will,
But stupidity and cupidity will probably prevail.
Cancer, cancer, everywhere,
And cocaine sunshine in the Botticelli air.
The exotic Ducati Superleggera crackles
As it warms up to commit parricide.
The power of the new machine
Will devour the 916.

Dante and his friend and mentor Guido Cavalcanti
Are taking the museum tour at the Ducati factory.
Here they can see everything that is beautiful.
The motorcycles are displayed along the walls.
The motorcycles are as beautiful as Merkel’s political will.
The visitors are contemplating the spirit of Love.
They might as well be gazing up at night at the stars.
So many motorcycles will lead to great poetry surely.
Guido is instructing Dante in the use of the spoken Tuscan language
And the guidance the love of women gives,
When they are joined by Fellini and behind him Puccini
And behind Puccini Guido’s father, Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti.
The motorcycles around them look like birdsong sounds in spring
And everything speaks Italian like a river flows.
There is no sign of any fascists
And we believe in God, even if we are atheists.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences